U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford has posted a note on the embassy's Facebook page, responding to recent demonstrations denouncing his recent trip to the besieged city of Hama:
Outside the Embassy demonstrators complained about U.S. policy towards the Syrian government and my trip to Hama.
As I have said before, we respect the right of all Syrians – and people in all countries - to express their opinions freely and in a climate of mutual respect. We wish the Syrian government would do the same – and stop beating and shooting peaceful demonstrators. I have not seen the police assault a “mnhebak” demonstration yet. I am glad – I want all Syrians to enjoy the right to demonstrate peacefully. On July 9 a “mnhebak” group threw rocks at our embassy, causing some damage. They resorted to violence, unlike the people in Hama, who have stayed peaceful. Go look at the Ba’ath or police headquarters in Hama – no damage that I saw.
Other protesters threw eggs and tomatoes at our embassy. If they cared about their fellow Syrians the protesters would stop throwing this food at us and donate it to those Syrians who don’t have enough to eat. And how ironic that the Syrian Government lets an anti-U.S. demonstration proceed freely while their security thugs beat down olive branch-carrying peaceful protesters elsewhere.
The people in Hama have been demonstrating peacefully for weeks. Yes, there is a general strike, but what caused it? The government security measures that killed protesters in Hama. In addition, the government began arresting people at night and without any kind of judicial warrant. Assad had promised in his last speech that there would be no more arrests without judicial process. Families in Hama told me of repeated cases where this was not the reality. And I saw no signs of armed gangs anywhere – not at any of the civilian street barricades we passed.
Hama and the Syrian crisis is not about the U.S. at all. This is a crisis the Syrian people are in the process of solving. It is a crisis about dignity, human rights, and the rule of law. We regret the loss of life of all Syrians killed, civilians and security members both, and hope that the Syrian people will be able to find their way out of this crisis soon. Respect for basic human rights is a key element of the solution.
Pointedly, no direct word about today's "national dialogue," which the opposition is boycotting -- though his remark that "this is a crisis the Syrian people are in the process of solving" suggests the United States is still not quite ready to dump Bashar al-Assad.
In related news, Ford and his French counterpart were hauled into the Syrian Foreign Ministry Sunday and criticized for their trip to Hama on Thursday and Friday. Given that the State Department said the visit was authorized by the Syrian regime, it's likely this is all just political theater -- or even cover for an official meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.
Another explanation might be retaliation for the fact that Syrian ambassador to Washington Imad Moustapha was summoned to the State Department this past week for allegedly spying on Syrian-Americans and threatening their family members. The Obama administration is said to be considering restrictions on Moustapha's movements, but will likely not boot him out of the country, as that would be sure to prompt Ford's expulsion from Syria.
UPDATE: A "senior U.S. official" tells AFP that Ford's trip to the Foreign Ministry was a previously scheduled meeting, and accuses the Syrian regime of "organizing" the protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Damascus.