Syria: Clinton Says Assad Has ‘Lost Legitmacy’

Posted July 11th, 2011 at 5:50 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has “lost legitimacy” and that the United States has no interest in his government remaining in power.

Clinton cautioned Mr. Assad and his supporters Monday that there is no truth to suggestions the U.S. is secretly hoping the current government emerges intact from the country’s turmoil to ensure regional stability.

In Washington’s strongest condemnation of Mr. Assad since his security forces launched a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in March, Clinton said the authoritarian leader “is not indispensable” and that the U.S. has “nothing invested in him remaining in power.”

She also condemned recent mob attacks on the U.S. embassy and the American ambassador’s residence in Damascus, as well as separate assaults against French diplomatic missions in the country.

Clinton accused Mr. Assad’s government of attempting to divert attention from its brutal domestic crackdown and demanded that Syria uphold international treaty obligations to protect foreign diplomats and missions. She also charged that Damascus has accepted aid from Iran to repress the Syrian people.

Earlier, the State Department summoned a senior Syrian diplomat in Washington to protest the attack on the U.S. embassy and seek compensation for damages.

Crowds of Syrians loyal to Mr. Assad surged into the U.S. embassy compound in Damascus Monday. Attackers broke windows, raised a Syrian flag on the grounds and wrote anti-U.S. graffiti on walls. The mob left after their brief incursion was pushed back by U.S. Marine guards.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington that the Syrian security response to the assault was slow. She blamed a pro-government Syrian television station for inciting the violence.

The French embassy gates were also the scene of protests on Monday. French security guards fired in the air to keep demonstrators from entering the grounds. Officials said three embassy staffers were injured.

The protests come amid rising tension with Syria’s government after last week’s visit by the U.S. and French ambassadors to the flashpoint city of Hama.

Ambassador Robert Ford and French Ambassador Eric Chevallier traveled to Hama Thursday and Friday to show solidarity with its residents, who have come under attack from government forces while staging some of the largest protests to date against Mr. Assad.

The U.S. Sunday accused Syria of organizing a 31-hour demonstration outside the embassy to protest the Hama visit. France lodged similar complaints after a pro-government mob damaged its Syria missions.

Syria’s foreign ministry called the visits “flagrant interference” in the country’s internal affairs aimed at undermining its stability.

Meanwhile, rights activists and residents said Monday that Syrian troops backed by armored vehicles entered the central city of Homs, killing at least one person and wounding 20 others.

The actions come as Syria holds the second day of what it calls a national dialogue on political reform.

Some government critics have joined the talks in Damascus, but the main opposition groups are boycotting to protest President Assad’s deadly crackdown.

Rights groups say Syrian security forces have killed at least 1,600 civilians during the crackdown, while the government blames the violence on terrorists and Islamists who it says have killed hundreds of security personnel.