State Department Pulls U.S. Ambassador Out Of Syria

The State Department has withdrawn Ambassador Robert Ford from Damascus, citing threats to his security. Ford has angered the Syrian government for repeated forays around the country to show solidarity with peaceful protesters.

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The U.S. has pulled its ambassador out of Syria, saying it is not safe for him to be there. The Obama administration blames the Syrian government for inciting violence against Ambassador Robert Ford, and says when he does go back, the U.S. expects the Syrian government to protect him. NPR's Michele Kelemen has the story.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Ambassador Ford has had plenty of run-ins with pro-government thugs in Syria, and State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says Bashar al-Assad's government has been using its media to spread lies about the ambassador and incite attacks on him.

VICTORIA NULAND: We are concerned about a campaign of regime-led incitement targeted personally at Ambassador Ford by the state-run media. So I want to take this opportunity to call on the government of Syria to immediately end its smear campaign of malicious and deceitful propaganda against Ambassador Ford.

KELEMEN: She wouldn't predict when he'll return to Syria but said when he does the Syrian government is under treaty obligations to protect him. News of Ford's absence worries Syrian exiles like Murhaf Jouejati. He's a professor at National Defense University here in Washington

MURHAF JOUEJATI: When he was there, the actions that he took - namely his visit to the city of Hama, namely his attendance at a funeral of one of the protesters - is quite remarkable, really. Normally, diplomats do not do this sort of thing, but Ambassador Ford was very imaginative, creative and bold.

KELEMEN: Jouejati describes Ford as the U.S. eyes and ears in Syria and says his presence there has been a deterrent to the Syrian regime.

JOUEJATI: He, of course, went to several hotspots and identified very much with the protest movement. And in many instances, this deterred the Syrian regime from attacking unarmed civilians.

KELEMEN: The U.S. still wants to get Ford back to Syria, so it has no plans for now to expel Syria's Ambassador, Imad Moustapha. But Jouejati thinks the U.S. ought to reconsider.

In fact, there is no more need to have a Syrian ambassador here in Washington. And it becomes easier for the U.S. administration to declare Imad Moustapha a persona non grata, especially that he has been accused of relaying information about Syrian expatriates back to his regime.

A Syrian Embassy spokeswoman here in Washington says that Ambassador Moutstapha, like Ford, has been recalled for consultations. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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