US closes Syria embassy, pulls out all staff
The United States closed its embassy in Syria and pulled out all remaining staff on Monday citing serious security concerns as protests swirled against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
US President Barack Obama stressed it was important to resolve the ongoing conflict diplomatically, framing it as very different from the situation in Libya, where Western military intervention helped oust Moamer Kadhafi.
"The United States has suspended operations of our embassy in Damascus as of February 6. Ambassador (Robert) Ford and all American personnel have now departed the country," a State Department statement said.
"The recent surge in violence, including bombings in Damascus on December 23 and January 6, has raised serious concerns that our embassy is not sufficiently protected from armed attack," it said, referring to attacks linked to Al-Qaeda.
"We, along with several other diplomatic missions, conveyed our security concerns to the Syrian government but the regime failed to respond adequately."
Obama said a negotiated solution with Syria was still possible and defended his administration's handling of crisis, saying the US had been "relentless" in demanding that Assad leave power.
"It is important to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention and I think that's possible," Obama said in an NBC interview broadcast Monday.
"My sense is you are seeing more and more people inside of Syria recognizing that they need to turn a chapter and the Assad regime is feeling the noose tightening around them. This is not a matter of if but when."
Western powers have vowed to seek new ways to punish Assad's government amid growing outrage over vetoes on Saturday by Russia and China of a UN resolution condemning Syria for its deadly 11-month protest crackdown.
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