U.S. Expels Staff from Syrian Embassy, Kremlin Rallies to Assad's Defense
The Syrian ambassador left Washington in December 2011, nine months after Bashar al-Assad began firing on pro-democracy demonstrators, but the Obama administration is finally kicking out the embassy's personnel.
Estimates of the death toll in Syria have topped 200,000.
“The suspension of the Syrian Embassy’s activities in Washington D.C. and its honorary consulates around the country is an important and welcome step," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). "After three years of brutality by Assad against his people, including the horrifying use of chemical weapons on civilians, it is crucial that we increase the pressure on his regime. The longer this war goes on, the more dangerous and unstable the region will become."
“I welcome this overdue action. The brutal Assad regime is killing men, women and children," said Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.). "Syrian diplomats should go. But it would be withdrawal of our diplomatic recognition of the regime that would signal strong American support for the Syrian people.”
The State Department today said it's "prepared to consider, on the basis of reciprocity, the appointment of a third State to which the Syrian government may entrust the custody of the premises of its mission, together with its property and archives, and the protection of its interests."
"Alternatively, the Syrian government may seek the Department’s approval of its assignment of these responsibilities to a member of its locally employed staff, who is either a citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States. If such arrangements have not been finalized or approved by the Department before March 31, 2014, in accordance with Article 43 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Department will assume responsibility for ensuring the protection and preservation of the premises of the Syrian Mission, together with its property and archives."
The Kremlin flew to the side of its ally, slamming the U.S. for expelling the embassy staff.
"The aim of regime change in Damascus prevails over the task of disarming Syria of its chemical weapons and helping millions of Syrians who have suffered from the armed conflict," said the Russian Foreign Ministry, calling the move "worrying and disappointing."
Syria complained that the administration committed "a clear violation of the Vienna conventions on diplomatic relations and consular relations by resorting to an arbitrary measure."