US ambassador returning to Syria: official

6th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

The US ambassador to Damascus will return to Syria on Tuesday evening after leaving abruptly in late October because of security threats, Washington said.

"Ambassador Robert Ford has completed his consultations in Washington and is returning to Damascus this evening," a senior state department official said.

The government announced on October 24 that Ford had been brought back to Washington because of threats against his safety.

Ford came in for heavy criticism by regime supporters in Damascus who have accused him of helping incite violence in the country.

The ambassador also angered the regime by visiting protest hubs outside the capital in a show of solidarity with pro-democracy demonstrators.

The announcement came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, currently on tour in Europe, met Syrian dissidents in Geneva on Tuesday.

Clinton was holding talks with seven political opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, the state department said, without disclosing the agenda.

Washington is seeking ways to support the opposition in its bid to oust Assad, whose family has ruled Syria with an iron fist for decades.

Clinton previously met dissidents in Washington on August 2.

The United States, which has called for Assad to step down, welcomes what it sees as the growing isolation of Assad's regime, particularly after the 22-member Arab League and non-Arab Turkey imposed sanctions against it.

More than 4,000 have been killed in the crackdown which erupted in March, according to United Nations estimates.

When announcing Ford's pullout, the state department said "credible threats" had been made against his safety.

It said the media was "spreading lies about what he is up to" and there was concern that it could lead to further violence.

In late September Assad supporters tried to attack Ford and embassy staff as they visited a Syrian opposition leader in Damascus.

Pro-regime demonstrators damaged US vehicles and pelted the group with tomatoes but did not hurt Ford or his staff, Washington said.

"Ambassador Ford's presence is a benefit to our mission in Syria as he has worked diligently to deliver our message and be our eyes on the ground," a spokesman said at the time.

© 2011 AFP

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