Obama Calls For Syria's President To Resign

President Obama released a written statement Thursday morning calling for the resignation of Syrian President Bashar Assad, condemning "the disgraceful attacks on Syrian civilians," and issuing an executive order imposing new sanctions on the Syrian government.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

President Obama today released a written statement calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign. In his statement, President Obama condemned, quote, "the disgraceful attacks on Syrian civilians." Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed that call in an announcement from the State Department.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): Assad is standing in their way. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for him to step aside and leave this transition to the Syrians themselves.

President Obama also issued an executive order imposing new sanctions on the Syrian government.

To sort this all out, we're joined by NPR's Michele Kelemen.

Good morning, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what effect is this statement likely to have on the Syrian government?

KELEMEN: Well, it's not clear yet. And Secretary Clinton herself, just this week, was saying, you know, it's not going to be news if the U.S. says this. It'll be news if, you know, Saudi's King Abdullah says it, or if the Turkish president says it - Turkish prime minister says this.

So she says those are calls that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can't ignore, unlike what the, you know, U.S. has been saying.

GREENE: Well, the Obama administration postponed calling for Assad's resignation, with Secretary Clinton saying that there needed to be this global consensus, as you're suggesting. Is that consensus forming? I mean, is this likely to start creating, you know, the space for other countries to start chiming in?

KELEMEN: Well, already, Britain, France and Germany have joined Secretary Clinton's call today. And she clearly feels that they've made some progress. The U.N.'s human rights officials have been calling for an investigation, and they want to have the Security Council refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. And that's going to be something likely to be discussed this afternoon at the U.N.

You've also had Ban Ki-moon, the U.N.'s secretary general, calling Assad and talking to him about this, calling for an end to the violence. Interestingly enough, a statement from the U.N. said that Assad has promised that the military action is ending. So it's very interesting timing, here.

GREENE: Fluid. The sanctions that President Obama has now imposed, how extensive are they?

KELEMEN: Much more so than what we've seen to date. I mean, previously, they've had travel bans and asset freezes of specific officials in Assad's government. Today, the U.S. blocked the property and interests of the government of Syria in the U.S. They've imposing sanctions on any import of petroleum products that originate in Syria. And the other part is the Americans can no longer invest in Syria.

GREENE: President Obama, and also Secretary Clinton, they made it very clear that the Syrian people need to determine their own future. Why was it so important for them to put that language in?

KELEMEN: Well, just remember what they said when they called for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down, when they said he must go. That eventually led to international action, military action.

As Clinton pointed out today, what they feel they're hearing from Syrian activists on the ground is that they don't want international action like this. They want pressure. They want any, you know, economic sanctions on Assad's government, but not military, not boots on the ground. And no one's really considering that.

And she said specifically today that Syrians don't want international involvement, and that the U.S. government is going to respect that.

GREENE: And just to restate the news, President Obama has released a written statement calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign. And this is a story that we will be covering.

NPR's Michele Kelemen, thanks for joining us.

KELEMEN: Thank you, David.

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