US may close embassy in Syria

It's not a question of showing our displeasure with the Assad regime, but rather the frightening fact that the Syrian government can't - or won't - protect our diplomats.

Josh Rogin:

An administration official confirmed to The Cable Friday that U.S. officials have been in discussions with the Syrian regime in an effort to negotiate new security agreements for the streets surrounding the embassy, which have become more and more dangerous for U.S. personnel as the violence in Damascus has drawn closer to the central city. Those streets house several other foreign embassies as well, meaning that if the Syrian government does not meet requests for better security guarantees, several countries could be forced to roll up their diplomatic presence in Damascus, despite their preference to stay.

"We've had serious concerns about the fact that the mission is exposed, as have other embassies," the administration official told The Cable. "We've been in to see the Syrians to request extra security measures. They are deciding what they can do. If they can't meet our concerns, we're going to have to consider closing [the embassy]."

Over the past few months, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford has worked to keep the embassy open and functioning amid physical attacks on him and the embassy building, usually by groups of thugs who support the Syrian regime. Unlike newer embassy designs, the U.S. facility in Damascus sits right on the street, dangerously exposed.

"He's been working on this for a couple of weeks," the official said. The official declined to specify exactly what the security threats are or how long the Syrian government has to make up its mind.

The embassy staff remains the administration's best eyes and ears on what's going on inside Syria, U.S. officials argue, as they maintain links with both the government and the opposition.

This problem is not confined to Syria. A few months ago, the Egyptian military stood by while dozens of protestors stormed the Israeli embassy causing its evacuation. American diplomats have also been threatened in Yemen.

The failing regimes in the Middle East have apparently downgraded the importance of keeping the diplomatic community - at least those from western countries - safe from harm. While leaving Syria would be a bad idea, no one would blame the diplomats for going home if their lives were at risk.

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