Entries in Robert Ford (10)


US Ambassador to Syria: Assad ‘Should Step Aside’

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In one of his first interviews since leaving Syria after operations at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus were suspended because of the escalating violence, U.S. Ambassador to Syria  Robert Ford said the Syrian government had not delivered on any of its promises of reform.

“I’m hearing a lot about promises, but I’m not seeing any change on the ground. And change on the ground could start with stopping the attacks on civilian populations,” Ford told ABC News’ global affairs anchor Christiane Amanpour. “Stop arresting, stop shooting, peaceful protesters.  That would be a good way to start to show that you are sincere about some kind of a political dialogue.”

Ford said violence in the country had escalated dramatically over the past 11 months.

“It’s gotten much, much worse. And if the government does not stop its effort to put down a widespread protest movement by force, if it doesn’t stop trying to solve this by force the country will go off a cliff,” he said.

According to Ford, the U.S. does not want to send American military forces to Syria and is working to increase economic pressure on the country in hopes of getting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad to step down.

“He has lost his legitimacy, and therefore he should step aside … so that a peaceful political transition can go forward,” Ford said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Ambassador Returns to Syria

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, is returning more than a month after he was recalled over concerns for his safety, according to State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner.

Toner said Ford would continue the work he started before leaving the country due to safety concerns in October, including, “delivering the United States’ message to the people of Syria; providing reliable reporting on the situation on the ground; and engaging with the full spectrum of Syrian society on how to end the bloodshed and achieve a peaceful political transition.”

“We believe his presence in the country is among the most effective ways to send the message that the United States stands with the people of Syria,” Toner said in a statement.

At the time Ford was recalled in October, he had spoken out publicly against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and had been a target of intimidation from the regimeand its supporters. Ford was attacked by a mob and pelted with eggs and tomatoes as he visited a prominent dissident in late September.

Ford is to arrive Wednesday in Damascus.  The U.S. embassy staff can be described as a skeleton crew right now, consisting of essential personnel, this after the authorization of departures for dependents and non-essential personnel.

Ford had been planning to return to Syria in time for Thanksgiving, but security concerns led the administration to scrap those plans. As part of the reminder that Ford would always return to Syria,  State Dept. spokesperson Victoria Nuland had said repeatedly on the record that Ford had purchased a Thanksgiving turkey for staff that he would bring back in time to celebrate the holiday.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Delays Ambassador's Return to Syria

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford planned to return to Syria either Monday or Tuesday after leaving the country late last month over concerns about his personal safety, but the State Department on Monday cited a number of reasons why he’s not going back.

Among the reasons the State Department says Ford will not yet return include lingering concerns about security, concerns about his ability to be effective there given government restrictions on diplomatic travel around the country, and the desire to coordinate with allies like France who recalled their ambassadors last week amid increasing violence.

The State Department previously said Ford would be returning in time to share Thanksgiving with his colleagues at the embassy. Spokesperson Victoria Nuland insists that the State Department still plans to send Ford back, but wouldn’t elaborate on the timeline other than to say it would be this year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Citing Safety, US Ambassador to Syria Returns to Washington

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The American ambassador to Syria has been pulled from that country on concerns over his security.

"Ambassador Robert Ford was brought back to Washington as a result of credible threats against his personal safety in Syria,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement Monday.

Ford in recent months has made clear his support for the anti-government movement in Syria, a position that has led to some tense situations with pro-government demonstrators.

“This decision was based solely on the need to ensure his safety, a matter we take extremely seriously,” Toner said.

“At this point, we can’t say when he will return to Syria,” Toner said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Reads 'Riot Act' to Syrian Envoy over Attack on Ambassador Ford

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- On Thursday night the State Department called in Syria’s Ambassador in Washington Imad Moustapha and “read the riot act about this incident” and reminded of Syria’s treaty obligations to protect foreign diplomats.
“He was reminded that Ambassador Ford is the personal representative of the president and that an attack on Ford is an attack on the United States,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters Friday.
In the meeting with Ambassador Moustapha, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman also demanded that the Syrian government pay for the extensive damage to embassy vehicles. A previous U.S. demand to pay for damage to the U.S. embassy after it was stormed by another mob last summer has so far fell on deaf ears, the State Department said.
Part of the U.S. complaint this time is how long it took Syrian security forces to respond to Ford’s calls for help.
“As compared to the almost instantaneous response that Syrian security seems to be able to mount when there's an opposition demonstration, it took them almost two hours to come and disperse the mob and extract him from the site, and then he and his Syrian escorts went right back to the embassy without incident,” Nuland said.
Nuland described the group of protestors that assaulted Ford as a “Syrian rent-a-mob” and denied reports in Syrian media that Ford’s convoy hit a small child.
“His convoy did not hit anyone; that's Syrian disinformation. He went straight back to the embassy with no incident,” she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Ambassador Ford Travels Restive Syrian City Despite Restrictions

U.S. Department of State(DAMASCUS, Syria) -- So how did Ambassador Robert Ford get out to Jassem when the Syrian government restricts his movements outside Damascus?

He didn't ask for permission.

"He informed the Syrian Foreign Ministry after the visit, and he made clear to them that the reason that he didn't inform them before the visit was because they haven't been approving any visits by anybody, anywhere. He has, over the last six weeks, three times requested permission to go to Aleppo, for example, and three times has been denied. So he chose to inform them afterward," State Dept. spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters.

Ford spent about four hours in Jassem and met with ordinary Syrians, including opposition leaders. He also followed up with them by phone later. He apparently saw lots of Syrian security forces everywhere.

"He was conscious of that, not wanting to make life difficult for those Syrians that he was speaking with, which is why he only stayed for four hours," Nuland said.

"His message back to them was that we stand with them, and that we admire the fact that their action has been completely peaceful. And their message back to him spoke of their desire to continue to work with other folks around Syria who share their interest in a democratic transition," she added.

So how did the regime respond to the trip?

"The reaction was relatively muted. They weren't surprised. They obviously knew where he was," Nuland said.

As a result of the Syrian restrictions on American diplomats, last month the U.S. placed reciprocal restrictions on Syrian diplomats in the U.S. who now have to request for permission to leave the beltway. Nuland said those requests have always been approved, including some Syrian diplomats who visited California last week.

The FBI had previously opened an investigation into alleged intimidation of Syrian Americans by Syrian diplomats who threatened to go after their relatives back in Syria.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Syria and the US Place Restrictions on Each Others' Diplomats

U.S. Department of State(WASHINGTON) -- Travel restrictions for Syrian and American diplomats had been rumored before, but the Syrian ambassador and the State Department confirmed it Wednesday.
Following U.S. Ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford’s trip to the restive city of Hama, the Syrian regime placed restrictions on his and all American diplomats’ travel outside of the capital. In order to leave they would need the consent of the government. That permission is unlikely given the current environment as the regime launches all-out attacks on a number of cities.
The State Department took reciprocal action, as is common in these cases, restricting Syrian diplomats’ travel to the immediate area around Washington, D.C.
“The Syrian Embassy must submit a Travel Approval Form to the Department at least seven days prior to the intended date of departure, not including the day the proposed travel is scheduled to take place, or weekends, and federal holidays,” the State Department confirmed in a statement Wednesday.
Ambassador Ford had been planning to travel to Deir el Zour, another restive Syrian city, but was unable to do so. Last week the regime began its siege on the city.
The State Department has voiced its concern about the actions of the Syrian embassy since the uprising began. Earlier this year they accused some embassy staff of intimidating Syrian-Americans who were protesting here, and also of going after their families back in Syria.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US: 30,000 Syrians Detained, Some in Cages

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department Thursday said that some 30,000 Syrians are in detention, “in some cases, in absolutely repulsive, disgusting conditions.”
Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that witnesses who have been inside the prisons report that some prisoners are being kept in cages and in the courtyards of prisons and in schools.
Asked about recent comments from Syrian President Bashar Assad that suggested some regret for his regime’s response to the protests, Nuland said, “We are looking for action. We are not looking for words; we're not looking for promises. We're looking for the violence to end, for the forces to go back to barracks and for a real democratic transition to start.”
“The violence continues at extremely horrific levels,” she added.
Also, Ambassador Robert Ford met in Damascus Thursday with the Syrian foreign minister at the American’s request.
“He made clear, as we have publicly, repeatedly, that Syria is going to face increasing pressure if the silence doesn't end, including more economic sanctions from the U.S., and we hope, from others; that empty rhetoric isn't going to suffice. He challenged the regime's lip service about enacting reform, and he called for free and open access for the media and also for strict compliance with Vienna Convention obligations to protect diplomatic personnel,” Nuland said.
“You also won't be surprised that the response from Foreign Minister Muallem was just as defiant and just as unconvincing as President Assad has been in the last couple of days,” she added.
Nuland said Ambassador Ford is planning more travel outside Damascus, but wouldn’t say where or when.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Envoy Describes 'Atrocious' Abuses by Syrian Security Forces

U.S. Department of State(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford on Tuesday described what he called “atrocious” and “ghastly” abuses of Syrian opposition figures, protesters, and even bystanders at the hands of President Assad’s security forces. He said almost 2,000 people have been killed so far as the regime continues to crack down on an uprising that threatens to oust Assad from power.

“In general, their behavior has been atrocious. And their recent actions that we read about in the newspaper these days only underline again that the Syrian government is unwilling to lead the democratic transition that the Syrian people themselves demand,” he said.

Ford, who arrived in Damascus in January only after a recess appointment, sat before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a confirmation hearing this afternoon.

“With respect to the violence, it's getting worse -- the Syrian government's constant brutality; its refusal to allow peaceful marches; its insistence on widespread arrest campaigns; and its atrocious torture -- the reports you read about the detention conditions are just ghastly,” he told the panel.

Ford veered from his prepared remarks to describe the extent of the bloodshed.

“The government's response has been brutal; it has been outrageous.  Nearly 2,000 people have been killed by the Syrian security forces and thousands more arrested and held in barbaric conditions,” he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Protesters Attack US and French Embassies in Syria

The Syrian flag flutters outside the damaged windows of the French Embassy following a gathering of pro-government protesters in Damascus on July 11, 2011. LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images(DAMASCUS) -- Pro-government protesters attacked the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus on Monday.

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been protesting outside the two embassies since Friday after Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador, and Eric Chevallier, the French ambassador, separately visited the city of Hama on Thursday to show support for anti-government protesters.

Officials tell ABC News that nearly 300 protesters surrounded the U.S. embassy with some making it to the roof of the chancery building before being stopped by U.S. Marine guards. Mr. Ford's residence, which is a few blocks from the embassy, was attacked shortly after. Damage to both buildings includes spray paint and broken windows from thrown rocks, fruits, and vegetables. At the French embassy, windows were broken and the ambassador’s vehicle was damaged. French guards fired live shots to disperse the protesters.

BBC News reports that in a statement, the U.S. State Department said, "One of the basic obligations of a government under the Vienna Convention is protection of diplomatic facilities. On this, as in other areas such as protection of human rights, the Syrian government failed."

In a statement, ABC News reports that the French embassy echoed the U.S. State Department’s views on the role of the Syrian forces under the Vienna convention, and said French security officers were forced to fire warning shots due to the Syrian forces' passivity during the attacks. The embassy also stated that the pro-government demostrators were well-organized, using a battering ram in an attempt to break down doors. They reported that three employees were injured.

Syria is facing international criticism for its violent crackdown of opposition forces that has reportedly killed more than 1,000 people.

The United States says it plans to file complaints and demand compensation from the Syrian government for damages.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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