WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday that Syrian President Bashar Assad has “lost legitimacy” as a leader interested in reform as the United States formally protested an attack on the U.S. Embassy and the American ambassador’s residence in Damascus.
Clinton’s comments fell short of demanding that Assad leave power but were some of the strongest public criticism yet by a senior U.S. official and demonstrated Washington’s anger not only at the embassy attack but the Assad regime’s continuing crackdown on opponents.
“From our perspective, he has lost legitimacy,” Clinton told reporters at the State Department in a joint news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. “He has failed to deliver on promises he has made, he has sought and accepted aid from the Iranians as to how to repress his own people.”
Clinton said there was a “laundry list of actions” that the Assad regime should be held accountable for. And she condemned the attacks on the U.S. and French embassies while demanding that Syria uphold its international treaty obligations to protect foreign diplomatic missions.
Earlier, the department summoned a senior Syrian diplomat to register the U.S. complaints in person and said it would seek compensation for damage caused when a mob of what it described as about 300 “thugs” breached the wall of the embassy compound before being dispersed by U.S. Marine guards.
Clinton cautioned Assad and his supporters that there was no truth to suggestions by some that the U.S. wanted to see the current regime stay in power for stabilities’ sake.
“President Assad is not indispensible and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power,” she said.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said it appeared a government-controlled television statement had instigated the violence, and Clinton warned Assad that he could not distract the international community from its brutal crackdown on protesters demanding reforms.
“By either allowing or inciting this kind of behavior by these mobs against American and French diplomats and their property, they are clearly trying to deflect attention from their crackdown internally and to move the world’s view away from what they are doing,” Clinton said. “It just doesn’t work.”
Nuland called the embassy attacks “absolutely outrageous.” She said the mob had not breached the chancery building but had gotten onto its roof, spray painted graffiti and broken windows and some security cameras. In addition, she said protesters lobbed fruits and vegetables at the compound.
She said that Syrian security forces who are supposed to guard the mission were slow to respond to the attack. There were no injuries reported to embassy personnel, who are all accounted for, officials said.