|Assad missed a ‘historic opportunity for a new relationship with the West,’ Senator John F. Kerry said.|
US, allies urge Syrian leader Assad to step down
US freezes all assets, bans oil importation
WASHINGTON - The United States and several of its major allies yesterday called on Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, to give up power.
The carefully choreographed announcements followed months of popular protests and increasingly deadly reprisals that the United Nations commissioner for human rights said amounted to crimes against humanity by the Syrian authorities.
President Obama, who had faced criticism for not acting more assertively, ordered the freezing of all Syrian assets within US jurisdiction, banned the import of Syrian oil, and barred US citizens from having any business dealings with the Syrian government, which the administration once courted in hope of improving relations.
Obama called on other countries to impose their own sanctions, focusing on Syria’s oil and gas industry. European leaders suggested those sanctions were now under consideration.
Senator John F. Kerry, who played a prominent role in the administration’s effort last year to engage Assad, echoed the president’s criticism.
Assad missed a “historic opportunity for a new relationship with the West and economic transformation for Syria,’’ said the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “Now, with no end in sight to the regime’s brutality, President Assad has lost credibility and legitimacy.’’
The United States and its allies risked highlighting their relative powerlessness to alter events inside Syria. But their decision to turn up the pressure could have a profound psychological effect on a government that has survived by retrenching during crises and manipulating relations in the region - from Turkey to Israel, Lebanon to Iran - to keep itself relevant, if not admired.
Diplomatically, Syria appears more isolated than at any other time in the 41 years that Assad or his father, Hafez Assad, has led the country. US officials and diplomats said they hoped that fact alone could open fissures in the political and business elite cosseted under Assad’s rule. Until now they appear to have bet on the government surviving.
It was Obama’s first explicit call for the Syrian leader to resign, and it came after weeks of division within the administration and mounting criticism from Congress, advocates of Syrian democracy, and others that the United States and other nations had responded tepidly to the violent suppression of protests that have swept Syrian cities for five months. It also followed behind-the-scenes diplomatic maneuvering in which Turkey took the lead in an unsuccessful effort to persuade Assad to halt the violence.
“We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way,’’ Obama said in a statement released yesterday in coordination with allies in Europe. “He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.’’
Almost simultaneously, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany issued a joint statement urging Assad “to face the reality of the complete rejection of his regime by the Syrian people and to step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people.’’
Canada made a similar appeal, as did the European Union.
The UN human rights office in Geneva issued a 22-page report that concluded that Syrian government forces might have committed crimes against humanity by carrying out summary executions, torturing prisoners, and harming children.
The UN report - overseen by the high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay - accused Syria of grossly violating its citizens’ rights and carrying out “numerous summary executions, including 353 named victims.’’ It also said that members of the security forces “posed as civilians in order to cause unrest and portray an inaccurate picture of events.’’
The office recommended that the UN Security Council consider referring Syria to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. In New York, the Security Council met and discussed potential steps against Syria.
The United States and European members of the Security Council pressed for a resolution condemning Syria and were debating sanctions that could include an arms embargo, a freezing of assets, and a ban on travel by the country’s leaders, diplomats there said. They would not say whether the council would consider referring the matter to the international court, but did say that council members expressed a desire to hold accountable those responsible for the violence. At the United Nations, Syria said the United States was trying to use the Security Council to instigate further instability.
Even Russia, which appears likely to veto an embargo, has sounded increasingly frustrated with Assad’s government.