WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department said Friday it “may have no choice” but to close the U.S. Embassy in Damascus and remove all U.S. personnel from the country wracked by a 10-month revolt against the rule of President Bashar Assad unless Assad’s government takes extra steps to protect the mission.
The department issued a statement late Friday noting that the Obama administration has “serious concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Damascus, including the recent spate of car bombs, and about the safety and security of embassy personnel.”
The uprising against Assad has killed an estimated 5,400 people since March. Although the revolt began with mostly peaceful protests, an increasingly strong armed element has developed, and many people are now fighting the regime.
The department said the administration has asked Syria to take additional security measures to protect the U.S. Embassy, and the Syrian government “is considering that request.”
It also said it had warned Assad’s government that “unless concrete steps are taken in the coming days we may have no choice but to close the mission.”
The U.S. removed its ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, from Damascus in October because of security problems. He returned to Syria in December.
The administration argued at the time that Ford’s presence in Syria was important for advancing U.S. policy goals by meeting with opposition figures and serving as a witness to the continuing violence.
The Obama administration has long urged Assad to step down, and officials say his government’s demise is inevitable.
U.S. officials say Syria has become increasingly isolated, with Iran as one of its last remaining allies, and point to recent defections by some military and government leaders as a sign that Assad’s grip on power is unraveling. The 10-month uprising against Assad has turned increasingly militarized and chaotic as more frustrated civilian opponents and army defectors arm themselves and fight back against government forces.
Associated Press writer Julie Pace contributed to this report.