How the U.S. message on Assad shifted

It took about five months from the start of the Syrian uprising for the Obama administration to make the leap to saying President Assad should “step aside.”

Here’s a look back at the long — and deliberate — buildup.

Mid-March: Pro-democracy protests spread across Syria.

March 27: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appears to defend Assad, saying: “There’s a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”

April 26: National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor calls the crackdown in the city of Deraa “completely deplorable” and says the White House condemns it “in the strongest possible terms.”

April 28: In a letter, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) call on Obama to strengthen his policy and say declare that Assad has “lost legitimacy.”

April 29: Obama issues an executive order targeting Syrian officials involved in human rights abuses.

May 18: Obama issues an executive order targeting Assad specifically and six other senior officials.

May 19: Obama delivers a major Middle East speech on the Arab Spring. During his remarks, he says: “President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.”

July 11: Clinton says Assad has “lost legitimacy.”

July 12: White House press secretary Jay Carney echoes Clinton, saying Assad has “lost legitimacy” and that he is “not indispensable.”

Aug. 5: Obama talks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, raises the prospect of calling for Assad to go.

Aug. 13: Obama talked with British Prime Minister David Cameron, “forging agreement it was time for Assad to step aside.”

Aug. 18: Obama and other Western leaders call on Assad to quit.

Scott Wilson is the chief White House correspondent for the Washington Post. Previously, he was the paper’s deputy Assistant Managing Editor/Foreign News after serving as a correspondent in Latin America and in the Middle East.

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