U.S. Pulls Ford Out of Syria over 'Credible Threats', Damascus Hits Back
The U.S. on Monday pulled its ambassador out of Syria what it said were security concerns, prompting a swift response from Damascus which recalled its ambassador to Washington a few hours later for "consultations."
State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that Ambassador Robert Ford returned to Washington this weekend after "credible threats against his personal safety."
Toner couldn't say when Ford might go back to Syria, saying it depended on a U.S. "assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground."
For her part, a Syrian official said the Syrian ambassador to the U.S. was recalled for consultations.
Roua Shurbaji, a Syrian Embassy spokeswoman, said Ambassador Imad Mustafa left Washington on Monday. She said no other measure was being taken by the embassy.
Ford has enraged Syrian authorities with his forceful defense of peaceful protests and harsh critique of a government crackdown that has now killed nearly 3,000 people. Ford particularly angered Assad's regime in July when he greeted demonstrators in the restive city of Hama.
The ambassador has been the subject of several incidents of intimidation by pro-government thugs, usually in coordination with pro-Assad media capturing the humiliation.
Last month, Ford and several colleagues from the embassy were pelted with tomatoes and eggs as they visited an opposition figure. U.S. officials said the assault was part of a campaign to intimidate diplomats investigating Assad's repression of pro-reform demonstrators. Other such incidents have occurred after meetings with dissident groups or individuals.
Although Assad's government has allowed Ford to remain in the country, it has tried to restrict where he can travel.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved Ford's nomination, with Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry praising Ford for continuing to visit cities under siege and "speak truth to power."
He had been in Syria since January after being appointed to the post temporarily when the Senate was out of session.
Kerry said Ford has been steadfast "despite even being physically attacked and assaulted by the regime's goons."