Muallem Warns French, U.S. Envoys Not to Visit Provinces
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem warned the French and U.S. ambassadors on Wednesday not to travel outside Damascus without permission from the authorities, after they both visited the flashpoint central city of Hama earlier this month.
"We will impose a ban on any (diplomatic) travel more than 25 kilometers outside Damascus, if the ambassadors continue to ignore (our) guidance," Muallem told the envoys at a meeting broadcast by state television.
"I hope that we will not be forced to impose the ban," he added.
"We did not expel the two ambassadors because we had hoped to maintain better relations in future."
Both U.S. envoy Robert Ford and French ambassador Eric Chevallier visited Hama on July 7 amid repeated large demonstrations in the city against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
Damascus reacted furiously to the visit, accusing the U.S. ambassador of seeking to undermine the stability of Syria and calling in both envoys for consultations on July 10.
The Syrian authorities accused the pair of traveling to Hama without authorization but Washington insisted Damascus had been notified in advance.
"The U.S. ambassador met with saboteurs in Hama ... who erected checkpoints, cut traffic and prevented citizens from going to work," an interior ministry statement said at the time.
The foreign ministry called Ford's presence in Hama "obvious proof of the implication of the United States in the ongoing events, and of their attempts to increase (tensions), which damage Syria's security and stability."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said she was "dismayed" by such criticism and stressed that Syrian authorities knew of the visit in advance.
Embassy press attache JJ Harder insisted Ford "certainly did not incite anyone to anything".
"He met with average Syrian citizens and received a warm welcome," Harder said.
Ford "wanted to see with his own eyes what was happening on the ground," as "the lack of uninhibited access for international media makes this even more important."