U.S. closes Syrian embassy: How often does the U.S. shutter embassies?

The U.S. State Department closed its embassy in Syria on Monday and pulled the remaining staff.


Pro-Assad protesters hang Syrian flags and Assad portraits at the fence wall of the U.S. embassy compound in July. (Syrian news Web site Shukumaku/AP)

The United States has shuttered embassies before, often under similarly dramatic circumstances. While some embassies later reopened, several countries remain without an U.S. embassy today.

Iran, for example, has been without a U.S. embassy since the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. A “virtual embassy” recently launched by the State Department was blocked in the country within 12 hours.

North Korea doesn’t have a U.S. embassy either, as the country’s communist leadership is not on friendly terms with the United States. The United States recognized the South Korean government in Seoul after the Korean War, in 1948, but never did the same for North Korea.

“U.S. embassies and consulates in other countries are responsible for maintaining diplomatic relations and for conducting bilateral relations with these countries,” the State Department says on its Web site of Iran and North Korea.

Sweden acts as the protecting power for the United States in North Korea, and Switzerland in Iran.

In the case of Syria, Poland will serve as the U.S.’s protecting power in the country.

For Bhutan, the U.S. embassy in New Delhi is used to maintain “cordial” but “informal” relations with the tiny country, and for Taiwan, a Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office has been set up in place of an embassy.

In Cuba, diplomatic relations have been strained since President Dwight D. Eisenhower closed the U.S. embassy there on Jan. 3, 1961, because of deteriorating relations with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. U.S. interests are represented through a Swiss Embassy in Havana and Washington, D.C.

Other embassies that have been shuttered under dramatic circumstances include the U.S. embassies in East Germany and Berlin, closed after the fall of Berlin Wall (replaced immediately by a new embassy in Berlin); and the U.S. embassy in Russia, closed following the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in 1917 (it reopened in 1933).

Below, see an image of where the U.S. embassy in Syria existed in Damascus until Monday (the red pin), located on Mansour Street in a neighborhood filled with other embassies:


(Google Maps)

Violence relating to the revolt had not reached that neighborhood, but U.S. officials said they were concerned about the security of the lightly-protected embassy building.

Ford, the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, has long been facing security problems in the country. As early as August, Ford was assaulted by a supporter of Assad, who wrapped him in a poster:

In September, Ford was pelted with eggs and tomatoes.

The decision to shutter the embassy comes two days after Russia and China vetoed a United Nations resolution condemning Syria’s crackdown on protesters. Clashes in the country are threatening to become an all-out civil war.


View Photo Gallery: Protesters opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad face violent responses from security forces.

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