Syria Bars Western Diplomats
Last week a group of Western nations evicted all senior Syrian diplomats from their nations. This week, Syria has responded by barring the representations of seventeen Western nations from Damascus:
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that more than a dozen Western ambassadors and envoys were no longer welcome, a response to the coordinated expulsion last week of Syrian diplomats from the United States and 10 other nations.
But Syria’s tough words appeared to be tempered by an agreement to allow international relief agencies to increase their presence and deliver aid to an estimated one million people from four cities in the country upended by the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
“Whether this is a breakthrough or not will be apparent in the next few days,” said John Ging, director of operations for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “Freedom of movement, unimpeded access for humanitarian action within Syria, is what it’s all about now. The good faith of the Syrian government will be tested today, tomorrow and every day.”
The announcement came as a Foreign Ministry statement listed 17 diplomats declared persona non grata by the Syrian government, including Ambassador Robert S. Ford of the United States and several others who have not been in the country for many months. The State Department closed its embassy in Damascus in February as the conflict worsened.
“The Syrian Arab Republic still believes in the importance of dialogue based on principles of equality and mutual respect,” read the ministry statement, quoted by Syria’s state news agency, SANA. “We hope the countries that initiated these steps will adopt those principles, which would allow relations to return to normal again.”
Along with Mr. Ford, the list included diplomats from Britain, Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany and Canada, each of which joined in expelling Syria’s representatives last week, as well as the entire embassy staff from Turkey. The Turkish government, which is playing host to thousands of Syrian refugees along the border, has been especially critical of Mr. Assad.
The diplomatic wrangling has occurred against a backdrop of more violence in recent days, in violation of a nearly two-month-old cease-fire agreement brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan, with reports of at least two further killings of large numbers of people at close range since the Houla massacre.
This isn’t an entirely unexpected response from Assad, of course. At the same time, it makes any diplomatic resolution of this mess even less likely, not that it was likely to begin with.