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Can the US keep Ambassador Ford in Syria after attacks?

Probably for now. But The US has complained that the Syrian government was slow to protect the embassy from the stone-throwing supporters of Bashar al-Assad who invaded.

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But on Friday, both ambassadors were greeted warmly in Hama and on that day, at least, the protesters weren't attacked. That's something that proponents of having an ambassador in Syria point to as an argument in their favor. Assad's regime may be killing and torturing protesters to hold on to power, but having a strong diplomatic presence can yield dividends, they argue – whether it's by acting as a restraining force on violence or as an avenue of communication with the regime.

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Nick Blanford reported for us today that diplomats told him that the US embassy suffered "extensive damage" in the attack, but also reckons that Ford will remain in harness for some time yet. "The Obama administration’s congressional critics, who opposed his being sent to Damascus in the first place, would seize on his recall," Blanford wrote. "Furthermore, the administration has repeatedly emphasized the importance of having an ambassador in Damascus to convey Washington's views to the Syrian leadership."

But if protests continue, and are matched by government troops firing on and jailing more protesters, relations are bound to further deteriorate. While unproven, there was a whiff of government incitement about the protests at the two embassies today.

The Assad regime was furious about the visit to Hama, site of a famous massacre carried out by troops under his father Hafez in 1982. During the weekend, State TV devoted a large amount of time to condemning the visit and the US more generally. Today, the State Department blamed the Syrian government for today's attack. "A television station that is heavily influenced by Syrian authorities encouraged this violent demonstration," the State Department wrote in a statement.

The US embassy has weathered serious attacks in Damascus before. In 1998, then Ambassador Ryan Crocker's wife had to take refuge in an embassy safe-room when a stone-throwing mob overran it. Then, crowds were furious at the Desert Fox air campaign against Iraq. Mr. Crocker was not recalled. In 2006, protesters in Damascus burned the Danish, Chilean, and Norwegian embassies apparently angry about cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper.


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