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Posted at 10:41 AM ET, 01/24/2012

Syrian official responds to threatened closure of U.S. embassy: ‘That’s their business’


Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem talks with reporters in Damascus. (Ahmed Jadallah — Reuters)
DAMASCUS — Syria’s foreign minister on Tuesday shrugged off warnings by the United States that it may close its embassy in Damascus because of inadequate security.

“That’s their business,” Walid al-Moualem said at a rare press conference in Damascus when asked about the threatened closure by a reporter from the U.S.-funded al-Hurra TV station.

U.S. officials have said they may close the Damascus mission by the end of the month unless Syria responds to requests for greater security at the building, which is located on a busy intersection in the heart of the city, leaving it exposed to potential suicide bombings.

The embassy is the most lightly protected in the region, in part because there has never been any evidence of an al-Qaeda threat in Syria. But concerns about its vulnerability soared after three recent bombings in the city, at least two of which were suicide attacks.

Diplomats from embassies in Damascus say the Syrians have been largely unresponsive so far to requests for greater security, including concrete barricades.

Damascus is simply too small to seal off streets around all the embassies requesting protection, said a Syrian journalist who asked not to be named. “No car would be able to drive in Damascus,” he said.

Moualem was not asked whether Syria would provide extra protection, and questions were taken only from 15 pre-selected journalists.

But he appeared unconcerned about the possibility of the U.S. Embassy’s closure. “We don’t take instructions from any foreign country,” he said, when the reporter asked him if he had received any instruction from the State Department about its intentions.

The Obama administration withdrew Ambassador Robert Ford for nearly two months last fall, citing direct threats against him from government supporters. Though he has now returned, the embassy has since dramatically reduced the number of diplomats, and is operating on a skeleton staff.

By  |  10:41 AM ET, 01/24/2012

 
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