Diplomacy in Damascus continues without US Ambassador Ford

While US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford has been brought back to Washington, Arab leaders and China are still trying to bring the government and the opposition to an agreement.

By , Staff writer

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    Demonstrators protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Hula, Syria, on Monday.
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The Syrian National Council, representing Syria's various opposition groups, has called for regional and international observers to be allowed into the country immediately, the Associated Press reports.

The request comes a day ahead of a visit by senior Arab officials, led by the prime minister of Qatar, in order to attempt starting a national dialogue between the opposition and President Bashar al-Assad's regime. However, a statement by the council released Tuesday says no dialogue is possible while the regime crackdown on protesters, which according to the United Nations has already killed 3,000 people, continues.

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With the removal this weekend of US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, the regime's diplomatic isolation is growing. Syria brought home its own ambassador to Washington after Mr. Ford's removal, the Guardian reports.

However, the State Department denies that Ford's return to the US is a "formal breakdown in relations." His deputy, Haynes Mahoney, is still in Damascus, according to the Guardian.

Whether Ford will return to Damascus is uncertain, State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said Monday, according to The Christian Science Monitor. It depends on an “assessment of Syrian regime-led incitement and the security situation on the ground.”

A US official in Washington said that Ford was doing a “great job” and that he would not have been recalled if the threats to his security were not credible.

“We’re all hoping it’s temporary,” the official said. “He’s been tremendously effective out there.”

China may be positioning itself to fill the diplomatic vacuum in Damascus. On Tuesday the Chinese government announced it was sending an envoy to Syria later this week and emphasized its desire for a political solution to the country's uprising, Reuters reports. China's special envoy to the Middle East, Wu Sike, will visit Syria and Egypt between Oct. 26 and Oct. 30.

"We hope that all sides in Syria can put the interests of the country and people first, discard violence, avoid bloodshed and clashes, and resolve differences via dialogue in a peaceful way," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in a news briefing. "We believe that Syria's government should proactively fulfill its promises of reform, and answer the people's reasonable demands."

Earlier this month, China and Russia blocked a UN Security Council resolution that threatened sanctions for the Syrian regime. The US, France, and Britain watered down the resolution in hopes of getting it passed, but the two countries still blocked it.

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