“From our perspective, he has lost legitimacy,” she said, marking the first time the United States has called into question the validity of the Syrian president. Syrian officials would be mistaken, she said, in concluding that repeated U.S. calls for democratic reforms in Syria signaled a desire to see Assad continue his rule — a conclusion many Syrians have reached.
“President Assad is not indispensable, and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power,” she told reporters at the State Department.
Her comments drew a stringent Syrian response on Tuesday, with Syria’s official news agency warning the U.S. to “refrain from any acts that could provoke the Syrian people’s emotions and pride in their national independence.”
The embassy attack also highlighted the vulnerability of American diplomats in the Syrian capital as well as the limits of U.S. statecraft at a time when tensions are soaring between the two countries over Syria’s treatment of protesters pressing for regime change.
Syria and the United States have had stormy relations dating to the 1950s, with occasional interludes during which the countries cooperated on counterterrorism investigations. In 2005, George W. Bush’s administration recalled the U.S. ambassador to Damascus over allegations that Syria was tied to the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.
The appointment of Robert Ford as the U.S. ambassador last year marked the first time since 2005 that the United States had filled the post, part of the Obama administration’s effort to repair relations with Syria.
Monday’s violence erupted after several hundred demonstrators waving portraits of Assad converged on the U.S. and French embassies in the morning to protest the visits on Friday by the American and French ambassadors to the Syrian town of Hama. The ambassadors had gone there to lend support to one of the largest anti-government demonstrations since the uprising began.
The assaults on the embassies also followed a blistering attack by Ford against the Syrian government, which he delivered, unusually, on Facebook. In his posting, he railed against the harsh tactics used by Syrian security forces to restrain pro-democracy demonstrations even as they allow anti-American rallies to go ahead.
U.S. officials said they would seek compensation for damage to the embassy in the latest attack, the most violent of several recent incidents there.