Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Syria’s al-Assad has ‘lost legitimacy’

President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had “lost legitimacy” for failing to lead a democratic transition, but stopped short of explicitly calling on him to step down.

It was the strongest language Obama has used against the Syrian ruler over his harsh crackdown on protests and echoed comments by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton a day earlier.

“I think that increasingly you’re seeing President Assad lose legitimacy in the eyes of his people,” Obama told CBS News in an interview. “He has missed opportunity after opportunity to present a genuine reform agenda.”

White House spokesperson Jay Carney said al-Assad “is not indispensable” and urged him to lead a transition to democracy.

The sharpened rhetoric follows an assault by al-Assad loyalists on the US and French embassies in Damascus, which drew strong condemnation by the United Nations Security Council.

Pressed on why Obama has not gone further and urged al-Assad to leave office, Carney told reporters: “There’s really a growing consensus among the Syrian people that this transition needs to take place and that President Assad is not going to lead it … The Syrian people will, should, be able to decide their own future.”

Limits of influence
The Obama administration has reacted cautiously to the Syrian government crackdown after working for the past two years to try to woo Damascus away from its alliance with Tehran, and remains mindful of the limits of its influence.

Aside from international denunciation, the only concrete response to the violence has been US and European Union sanctions against al-Assad, family members and aides.

Washington has also been worried about instability on Israel’s borders and wants to avoid another military entanglement in the Muslim world, where it is involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a Nato air campaign in Libya.

But with Monday’s assault on the US embassy by what the White House called “thugs”, US patience appears to be wearing thin with al-Assad, who has has been trying for four months to stamp out a broad popular revolt with troops and tanks.

“We’ve made that clear to the Syrian government, that it is their responsibility … to provide security for and to maintain security for foreign embassies,” Carney said.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the US ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, had met with Syria’s deputy foreign minister for talks with “a much more collaborative tone”.

Syria has accused the United States and France of distorting and exaggerating facts about the embassy attacks.

But Nuland said the United States would continue to discuss with allies possible further steps against Syria, including sanctions on its oil and gas sectors and potential referral to the International Criminal Court over the crackdown. – Reuters

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Matt Spetalnick
Matt Spetalnick works from Washington. Reuters Washington Correspondent Foreign Policy/National Security/White House Matt Spetalnick has over 2753 followers on Twitter.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

Fears of violence persist a year after the murder of...

The court battle to stop coal mining in rural KwaZulu-Natal has heightened the sense of danger among environmental activists

Data shows EFF has lower negative sentiment online among voters...

The EFF has a stronger online presence than the ANC and Democratic Alliance

More top stories

Phoenix activist takes on Durban’s politically connected in November polls

Independent candidates look set to play a greater role in the metro municipality after 1 November

Libyan town clings to memory of Gaddafi, 10 years on

Rebels killed Muammar Gaddafi in his hometown of Sirte on 20 October 2011, months into the Nato-backed rebellion that ended his four-decade rule

Fishing subsidies in the W. Cape: ‘Illegal fishing is our...

Fishers claim they are forced into illegal trawling because subsidies only benefit big vessels

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…