BEVERLY HILLS, MI — Members of the Syrian American community met with U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford on June 22 in an event that included a question and answer session about the current events in Syria. Ford was introduced by Congressman Gary Peters to a crowd of about 200 people.
|U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford|
“We will not stop until Bashar al-Assad is gone,” he told the crowd before also going over the U.S.' policy goals in Arabic for those in the audience who were not fluent in English.
He said the U.S. wants to: Stop the violence, start a political transition, and produce a representative government with respect for human rights. He also said that the Assad family has to leave power as part of the plan.
Russia and China have remained firm against the removal of Assad by outside forces or military aid to rebels, saying that Syrians should decide the future of their country, but U.S. leaders including President Barack Obama have said that Assad has no legitimacy and should step down.
Ford was asked by one member of the mostly anti-Assad audience why the U.S. isn't doing more to help in Syria.
Ford said that about 1.5 million Syrians need assistance and said about one million have fled their homes, adding that the U.S. has given $53 million in aid, mostly to Lebanon, to help the situation. He said it's not enough but the U.S. has commitments to other programs across the world.
According to Ford, the lack of oil purchases and bank ties is causing major problems for Assad's regime, and that his forces are beginning to lose battles.
“Little by little the government is losing,” he said. “Syrian forces are losing in Idlib, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Deir al Zor, parts of Damascus. They are losing the countryside. They are running out of money. They have spent half their reserves. The Russians sell weapons for cash (to them).”
One American-born audience member who is against the removal of Assad by outside forces called Obama's policy “appalling, unconstitutional and hypocritical,” saying, “What if Assad called for Obama to leave (because of his lagging approval rating, unconstitutional wars, etc.)?”
The comment led to shouting between the two sides in the audience before calm was restored by the moderator, who noted the democratic nature of the forum and was answered by applause.
Ford said that the Syrian government has raised some of the same concerns.
“The UN has a Declaration of Human Rights...Syria signed it in 1948,” he said. “It requires that all states allow free expression and other rights. The UN Commission on Human Rights has declared that Syria is in violation of all of those rights.”
Ford also denied a New York Times report that the CIA is shipping in weapons, and said that the U.S. is preparing “war crimes trials” for Assad.
In addition, he said that Al Qaeda is “definitely there” among the rebels, and that people are turning to it “because of Assad.”
Ford added that the U.S. is not sending its troops but that it is “not off the table.”