U.S., French envoys to visit protest hubs

July 13, 2011 at 7:28 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, July 13 (UPI) -- U.S. and French envoys planned to go to eastern Syria to meet with protest leaders after a meeting billed as a national dialogue on critical issues.

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and French ambassador Eric Chevalier said they will visit Deir al-Zar on the Iraqi border to meet opposition leaders Friday and Abu Kemal, Debkafile.com reported Wednesday.

Sources in Washington and Paris said both governments know the diplomats could face danger from Syrian troops, but both envoys offered to travel to the two cities for the sake of challenging President Bashar Assad's regime, said Debkafile.com, a Jerusalem-based, military- and intelligence-focused Web site. Sources also said Syrian government forces are poised to stop the diplomats.

The national dialogue staged by Assad at the resort city of Dimas broke down after most of the opposition representatives walked out and the street protesters boycotted it, observers said.

Participants issued a final statement Tuesday that observers said fell short of the demands of protesters seeking the ouster of the regime, The Washington Post said. However, the statement went beyond any officially sanctioned document had in calling for reforms, including revising the constitution and repealing Article 8 that guarantees Baath Party dominance in the country's political system.

Pro-government demonstrators Monday vandalized the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus. In response, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters the Assad government had lost legitimacy.

Syrian leaders denied they were behind the attacks on the embassies.

"It is ironic," said Buthaina Shaaban, an Assad adviser and one of the conference's architects. "What we are trying to do in Syria is have a peaceful transition to democracy, and what we expect from America as the largest democracy in the world is to support us."

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