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U.S. closes embassy in Syria

The State Department has "suspended" all operations at the U.S. embassy in Damascus and removed all its diplomats from the country, including Ambassador Robert Ford. "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," State ...

The State Department has "suspended" all operations at the U.S. embassy in Damascus and removed all its diplomats from the country, including Ambassador Robert Ford.

"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," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement to be released Monday, obtained in advance by The Cable. "We, along with several other diplomatic missions, conveyed our security concerns to the Syrian government but the regime failed to respond adequately."

Ford, the top U.S. official in Syria, has already left the country, along with the skeleton that staff still remained there. Nuland said he is technically still the ambassador and will return to Washington to head the State Department's Syria team and work with the Syrian opposition.

The State Department has "suspended" all operations at the U.S. embassy in Damascus and removed all its diplomats from the country, including Ambassador Robert Ford.

"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," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement to be released Monday, obtained in advance by The Cable. "We, along with several other diplomatic missions, conveyed our security concerns to the Syrian government but the regime failed to respond adequately."

Ford, the top U.S. official in Syria, has already left the country, along with the skeleton that staff still remained there. Nuland said he is technically still the ambassador and will return to Washington to head the State Department’s Syria team and work with the Syrian opposition.

"Together with other senior U.S. officials, Ambassador Ford will maintain contacts with the Syrian opposition and continue our efforts to support the peaceful political transition which the Syrian people have so bravely sought," said Nuland.

Syria escaped a new condemnation from the United Nations Security Council Feb. 4 when Russia and China vetoed the U.S.-supported, Moroccan-led resolution, which would have condemned the recent violence and referred to the Arab League’s plan for a transition of power in Syria.

But the closing of the U.S. embassy in Damascus was not done as a punishment to the Syrian regime, it was the result of the Syrian government’s refusal to provide basic security on the street outside the embassy, where thugs had amassed twice before to attack the embassy building.

"We had been asking the regime to close the road in front of the Embassy for some time, which they could easily have done, and they refused. So obviously they wanted us to leave," one administration official told The Cable.

"There are serious questions on whether the regime would have staged another attack to justify its false narrative of fighting against a band of extremists when in reality the Assad family is facing a growing popular uprising."

Over the past weeks, Ford had been in to see the Syrian foreign ministry repeatedly to ask for traffic control on the streets and side streets near the embassy, which also house several other foreign embassies that have now closed. The U.S. embassy is particularly vulnerable to things like truck bombs because it is close to the street. The State Department had been petitioning the Syrian government for years to give them land to relocate.

Ford officially lowered the U.S. flag atop the embassy at 5:41 AM Washington time Monday and the motorcade with 15 U.S. personnel departed Damascus at 6:12. At 7:45 the motorcade reached the Syrian-Jordanian border and was cleared through by Syrian customs at 8:30 en route to Amman.

Ford will now go to Europe to meet his wife, a State Department employee, whom he hasn’t seen since his visit to Washington last November. He’ll stay there for a well-deserved vacation before returning permanently to Washington, DC.

Nuland said the Assad regime simply couldn’t maintain security inside Damascus.

"The deteriorating security situation that led to the suspension of our diplomatic operations makes clear once more the dangerous path Assad has chosen and the regime’s inability to fully control Syria," she said. "It also underscores the urgent need for the international community to act without delay to support the Arab League’s transition plan before the regime’s escalating violence puts a political solution out of reach and further jeopardizes regional peace and security."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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