U.S. withdraws Syria envoy after threats

Laura Rozen

Robert Ford, America's envoy to Syria, returned from the volatile country to Washington over the weekend to ensure his safety, the State Department said Monday.

"Ambassador Robert Ford was brought back to Washington as a result of credible threats against his personal safety in Syria," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement emailed to journalists Monday. "At this point we can't say when he will return to Syria. It will depend on our assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground."

The decision to withdraw Ford at this time "was based solely on the need to ensure his safety, a matter we take extremely seriously," Toner said.

Ford was confirmed in the job only earlier this month. For months, conservatives in Congress had opposed sending any American envoy to Syria's capital city of Damascus, but Ford eventually won them over by repeatedly engaging with Syrian pro-democracy demonstrators in towns under assault by Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The Obama administration, along with several European allies, called in August for Assad "to step aside," and has passed numerous rounds of sanctions condemning his violent crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in the country. Analysts are concerned that the demonstrations against the regime in Syria could go on for a long time, and that the harsh crackdowns by the government could provoke widespread violence.

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