|President Bashar Assad of Syria told Turkey’s foreign minister that the crackdown protects ‘the stability of the country.’|
Assad rebuffs envoy’s plea to end crackdown
US said to be near demand he leave office
BEIRUT - President Bashar Assad of Syria rebuffed an appeal from Turkey yesterday to end the crackdown that has emerged as one of the bloodiest chapters in the Arab uprising and has plunged his country into its deepest isolation in years.
Assad said in a statement after a six-hour meeting with Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, that his government would press ahead with its fight against militant Islamists, the term the government has often used to describe the instigators of an uprising that began in March and has posed the gravest challenge to Assad’s rule.
Sana, Syria’s state news agency, quoted Assad as telling Davutoglu that Damascus “will not relent in pursuing the terrorist groups in order to protect the stability of the country and the security of the citizens.’’
‘’But it is also determined to continue reforms. And is open to any help offered by friendly and brotherly states,’’ the statement published by Sana said.
The Turkish foreign minister arrived in Syria yesterday morning to deliver a message that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has summarized as Ankara’s having “run out of patience’’ with a crackdown that has killed, by the count of some Syrian opposition groups, more than 2,000 people.
Turkey, Syria’s neighbor to the north, was an emerging ally before relations stumbled over Assad’s crackdown, and its officials are still thought to retain leverage with Assad, who took power in 2000. By his own count, Davutoglu has visited Syria more than 60 times over the past eight years.
“Mr. Assad conveyed his own thoughts, and we shared our views for the bloodshed to stop as soon as possible and people of Syria from all sects to live in peace in the future,’’ Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara after his meeting with Assad.
As the two officials met in Damascus, the country’s military and security forces pressed ahead with attacks on several cities, and activists said that at least 23 people were killed across the country. Tanks also assaulted the town of Binnish, in the northwestern province of Idlib, near the border with Turkey.
The Obama administration is preparing to explicitly demand the departure of Assad and hit his regime with tough new sanctions, US officials said yesterday as the State Department signaled for the first time that American efforts to engage the government are finally over.
The White House is expected to lay out the tougher line by the end of this week, possibly by tomorrow, according to officials who asked for anonymity. They said the move will be a direct response to Assad’s decision to step up the ruthlessness of the crackdown against proreform demonstrators by sending tanks into opposition hotbeds.
President Obama and other top US officials previously have said Assad has “lost legitimacy’’ as a leader and that he either must spearhead a transition to democracy or get out of the way. They have not specifically demanded that he step down. The new formulation will make it clear that Assad can no longer be a credible reformist and should leave power, the officials said.
At the same time, the Treasury Department is expected to expand sanctions against Assad and his inner circle, adding several new companies to a financial blacklist that will freeze any assets they have in US jurisdictions and ban Americans from doing business with them, the officials said.
Material from Associated Press was used in this article.