Thursday, August 18, 2011

Obama to call for Assad to leave office ...

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say the Obama administration is ready to make an explicit call for Syrian President Bashar Assad to leave power and has notified Arab and European allies that an announcement is imminent.

Preparations are in place for the White House to issue a statement Thursday demanding that Assad step down, the officials said. This would be accompanied by an announcement of new sanctions on the Assad regime and followed by an on-camera appearance by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to reinforce the U.S. position, the officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Although the officials acknowledged the move is not likely to have any immediate impact on the Syrian regime's behavior, they said it would send a powerful signal that Assad is no longer welcome in the international community. And they noted that the additional sanctions would further boost pressure on Assad and his inner circle.

As Syrian protesters have called for an end to his regime, Assad has unleashed tanks and ground troops in an attempt to retake control in rebellious areas. The military assault has escalated dramatically since the start of the holy month of Ramadan in August, with Assad's forces killing hundreds and detaining thousands.

President Barack Obama, Clinton and top national security aides have previously said that Assad has "lost his legitimacy" as a leader and that Syria would be "better off" without him. But they had not specifically demanded that he step down.

Thursday's expected new formulation of policy will make it clear that Assad can no longer be a credible reformist and has to leave, the officials said.

The administration had planned to make the announcement last week but postponed it largely at the request of Syria's neighbor Turkey, which asked for more time to try to convince Assad to reform, and because Clinton and other officials argued it was important to build a global consensus that Assad must go. Clinton on Tuesday publicly questioned the effectiveness of the United States acting alone.

"It is not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go," she said. "OK, fine, what's next? If other people say it, if Turkey says it, if (Saudi) King Abdullah says it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it."

Read more: Anniston Star - Sources US call for Assad departure imminent

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