Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 7, 2011.
QUESTION: And this morning, news that Asad’s forces are trampling another Syrian town. The best response the world has come up with so far is a United Nations statement condemning the violence and the U.S. trying to ratchet up sanctions. America’s ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, has been sent back there, having been drawn back here for urgent consultations. I met him at the State Department just before he left.
Do they consider you an enemy of the state in Syria?
AMBASSADOR FORD: They’re certainly angry with my trip to Hama. They were very angry about that. I don’t particularly care because we have to show our solidarity with peaceful protestors. I’d do it again tomorrow if I had to. I’m going to keep moving around the country. I can’t stop.
QUESTION: Do you fear, given that Hama in 1982 was the site of tens of thousands of deaths there by the regime, are you worried that that could happen now –
AMBASSADOR FORD: Yes.
QUESTION: — and that is happening now?
AMBASSADOR FORD: I mean, literally, dozens of people have been killed in the last week. I’m personally very nervous about the fate of some of the people I met. I fear that they’re either now under arrest or may be dead.
QUESTION: The violence continues despite the U.S. sanctions and the statement by the UN this week, so I asked the ambassador: Will Asad really feel the pressure from these moves?
How much leverage, though, does the United States have? It doesn’t have many industries there. Unlike with Egypt, you don’t have military-to-military or security cooperation.
AMBASSADOR FORD: First of all, there is just the power, the reputation of the United States. When I visited Hama, that was a statement and it got international attention that the American ambassador would go there. That’s leverage.
In addition, because we have targeted specific individuals and worked with partners, especially in Europe, we are seeing some of those individuals and other people who fear being named on sanctions lists coming to us and saying maybe I need to rethink what I have been doing.
QUESTION: Well, let me ask you about that strategy. You’re clearly bypassing the Syrian Government in that you’re not speaking to state television; you’re using social media, Facebook. You and your spokespeople have used very harsh, one might say undiplomatic, language to condemn the violence. What is your strategy –
AMBASSADOR FORD: I’d like to call it frank talk, Christiane.
QUESTION: What is your strategy?
AMBASSADOR FORD: My whole purpose in being in Syria is to be able to communicate not only with the Syrian Government but with the Syrian people more generally. I will be very frank again: The Syrian television operated by the state, operated by the dictatorship, is not credible and tells all kinds of lies. So we are looking for ways to reach out to the Syrian public through social media, through things like Facebook, and by going out and about in the country.
QUESTION: So you’re going to keep tweaking them. You’re going to keep waving sort of the red flag in front of the bull in the way you can.
AMBASSADOR FORD: It’s important to bear witness to what the Syrian Government is doing. In that kind of environment, where the international press, international television, can’t move around freely, it is really important for diplomats to be able to move around, to understand what the Syrian Government is doing on the ground. The Syrian Government does not tell the truth. They said there were armed gangs in Hama. Well, the only weapon I saw was a slingshot. So it’s important to bear witness and it’s important to relay a message of support.
QUESTION: You want change on the ground. Do you want Asad out?
AMBASSADOR FORD: We have said he has lost his legitimacy. But in the end, Christiane, it doesn’t really matter as much what we say or what the international community says as what the Syrian people say and what the Syrian people do.
QUESTION: It seems obvious what the Syrian people want: They want a democratic transition and they want the fall of this regime. The President of the United States, Barack Obama, called on a longtime U.S. ally, Hosni Mubarak, to leave. He’s not doing that to not such an ally and somebody who’s committing much more violence, Bashar al-Asad. Should the President of the United States say that it is time for Bashar al-Asad to step down?
AMBASSADOR FORD: Well, you’re absolutely right that Bashar al-Asad is using a great deal more violence than was used in Egypt. We have said – and we’ve been very clear on this – we do not view Bashar al-Asad as indispensible. We do not view his continuation in power as important to American interests. We have said we view him and his government as the source of instability and the source of violence in Syria. I think our views are very clear. The President has said his government will be left in the past. The meaning is clear, Christiane.
QUESTION: Many Americans watching this unfolding say, well, look, the United States joined a coalition of a no-fly zone, a military intervention in Libya, for instance. There’s no such thing on the horizon for Syria. Can you explain that?
AMBASSADOR FORD: The Libyan situation is very different from what we have in Syria. Probably the first and foremost thing in my discussions moving around the country and talking to people, even in Hama where there’s this atrocity going on right now, even in Hama when I talk to people there, “What do you think about what the Americans should do, the international community,” they were very clear, Christiane. They did not want American military intervention. I want to underline that. They did not want American military intervention.
QUESTION: What is the United States going to do to ratchet up the pressure to try to influence what’s happening there?
AMBASSADOR FORD: Well, we are going to try to ratchet up the pressure. The violence that the Syrian Government is inflicting on Syrian protestors, from our point of view, is grotesque, it’s abhorrent – not just from our point of view, from the point of view of the entire international community. And so we are looking at additional unilateral measures, but also measures that we can work with partners to get the Syrian Government to stop shooting protestors, to release political prisoners, and to stop these arrest campaigns.
QUESTION: Ambassador, thank you very much for joining us.
AMBASSADOR FORD: My pleasure.
QUESTION: And you can hear more of what Ambassador Ford had to say about America’s attempts to ramp up that pressure on Syria online at abcnews.com/thisweek.