After months of protests in Syria and a brutal crackdown by the government of President Bashar Assad, the Obama administration has called on Assad to leave office.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday that “for months the world had borne witness to the Assad regime’s contempt for its own people,” saying the regime had responded to protests with “empty promises and horrific violence.”
“The people of Syria deserve a government that respects their dignity, protects their rights, and lives up to their aspirations. Assad is standing in their way. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for him to step aside and leave this transition to the Syrians themselves,” she said.
Clinton said that the announcement would be backed by heightened sanctions against Damascus.
The White House released a statement saying that the new round of sanctions “bans U.S. persons from new investments in or exporting services to Syria, and bans U.S. imports of, and other transactions or dealings in, Syrian-origin petroleum or petroleum products. This is the strongest financial action we have taken against the Syrian regime thus far.”
The sanctions are geared to squeeze Damascus financially, a move Clinton said would deprive the government of funds as it carries out its crackdown against the opposition.
France, Britain and Germany also have called on Assad to step aside, and on Thursday European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton cited “the complete loss of Bashar al-Assad’s legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people and the necessity for him to step aside.”
Neighboring Turkey, which had been an ally, has been increasingly vocal in its condemnation of the violence as refugees have continued to pour over the border to escape the fighting. On Wednesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, compared Assad to Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.
Human rights groups say at least 1,800 have died since March in the protest movement. Syrian troops have targeted restive cities with tanks and heavy weaponry, and the crackdown has escalated during the holy month of Ramadan.
Photo of Bashar Assad by Getty Images.