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Ford: Support for Syrian protesters a must

Aug. 7, 2011 at 4:38 PM

WASHINGTON, Aug. 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. Ambassador to Syria said Sunday he "doesn't particularly" care if he's considered an enemy of the state for his talks with anti-government protesters.

The Syrian government was "certainly angry" with his trip to Hama, where President Bashar Assad stepped up his crackdown by sending in tanks, cutting water, electricity and communication services, and shooting people apparently at random, U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford said Sunday on ABC's "This Week with Christiane Amanpour."

"I don't particularly care, because we have to show our solidarity with peaceful protesters," Ford told Amanpour before returning to Syria from consultations in Washington. "I'd do it again tomorrow if I have to. I'm going to keep moving around the country. I can't stop."

He said he was "very nervous" about what happened to some of the people he met. His trip to Hama drew a sharp rebuke from Syrian leaders who accused him of meddling.

"I fear that they're either now under arrest or maybe dead," Ford said.

He said he thought the United States could leverage its power and reputation to help bring about a resolution to the crisis.

"When I visited Hama, that was a statement, and it got international attention that the American ambassador would go there," he said. "That's leverage."

Also, because the United States and Europe have targeted specific individuals for sanctions, "we are seeing some of those individuals and other people who fear being named on sanctions list coming to us and saying, 'Maybe I need to rethink what I have been doing.'"

Ford said the United States would try to ratchet up the pressure on Assad.

"The violence that the Syrian government is inflicting on Syrian protesters, from our point of view, is grotesque," he said. "And so we are looking at additional unilateral measures, but also measures that we can work with partners to get the Syrian government to stop shooting protesters, to release political prisoners, and to stop these arrest campaigns."

Asked whether he was bypassing the Syrian government by making posts on social networks, Ford said, "My whole purpose in being in Syria is to be able to communicate not only with the Syrian government, but with the Syrian people more generally. … So we are looking for ways to reach out to the Syrian public through social media … and by going out and about in the country."

While saying Assad has lost his legitimacy, Ford said the country's future is what "the Syrian people say and what the Syrian people do."

Topics: Robert Ford
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