US: Some Arab Leaders Offered Haven for Assad

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some Arab leaders have told the United States they are willing to provide safe haven to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hasten his “inevitable” departure from power, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.

Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman did not identify the countries that had offered a place for Assad to go after seven months of protests against his rule in Syria.

“Almost all the Arab leaders, foreign ministers who I talk to say the same thing: Assad’s rule is coming to an end. It is inevitable,” Feltman, who is in charge of near eastern affairs, told a Senate panel.
“Some of these Arabs have even begun to offer Assad safe haven to encourage him to leave quickly,” Feltman said. He hoped Assad and his inner circle would “head for the exits voluntarily.”

Assad has shown no sign of leaving. Syrian troops shot dead eight protesters and injured 25 in Damascus earlier Wednesday, activists said, in one of the bloodiest incidents in the capital since the upraising against Assad began.

More than 60 people have been killed by the army and security forces just since last week, when Assad’s government signed a peace plan sponsored by the Arab League.

Western governments led by the United States have called on Assad to leave power. Feltman said the United States would continue to support the Syrian opposition while diplomatically and financially pressuring the regime, “until Assad is gone.”

U.S. and European financial sanctions were “tightening the financial noose around the (Assad) regime,” he added.

But the United States did not seek militarization of the conflict: “Syria is not Libya.”

Washington favored multilateral sanctions on Syria at the United Nations, Feltman said, adding that if Russia and China continued to block a Security Council resolution condemning Syria, Washington would consider other steps.

The United States favored European-led efforts to introduce a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee that would insist on access to Syria for internationally recognized human rights monitors, Feltman said.

He feared the transition to democracy in Syria could be long and difficult, and had no answer when Senator Richard Lugar asked who might replace Assad once he is gone.

“That’s one of the real challenges, because the opposition in Syria is still divided,” Feltman said.

Feltman said the U.S. Commerce Department was investigating whether Internet-blocking equipment made by a U.S. company, Blue Coat Systems Inc, had made its way to Syria, which is subject to strict U.S. trade embargoes.

Blue Coat, of Sunnyvale, California, said in a statement on its website that some of its equipment apparently had been “transferred illegally “ to Syria, but that it did not know who was using the devices or exactly how. It said the company was cooperating with the U.S. government investigation. News reports have said Syria is using the equipment as part of its crackdown on protests to monitor and block Internet traffic.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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Al-Qaeda Prisoners Escape in Yemen

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mohamed Sudam

SANAA (Reuters) – A senior U.S. official pressed the Yemeni government on Wednesday to implement a Gulf Arab initiative calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down to end months of protest, Yemeni officials said.

The United States and ally Saudi Arabia fear that a power vacuum and tribal warfare in Yemen will be exploited by the local wing of al Qaeda to launch attacks in the region and beyond.

On Wednesday, dozens of al Qaeda militants escaped from a prison in the city of al-Mukalla in southern Yemen, the latest in a series of increasingly deadly clashes between security forces and militants in the south of the country.

A Yemeni government source said Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, met Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi and Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is acting president.

“The American side insisted on implementing the Gulf initiative and then removing features of tension (protests), while the Yemeni side demanded that features of tension be removed first and then implementing the initiative,” a Yemeni government source told Reuters.

Saleh has exasperated his rich Gulf Arab neighbors by three times agreeing to step down, only to pull out of a transition plan at the last minute and cling on to power.
Saleh is in Saudi Arabia recovering from injuries sustained in an attack on his palace in Sanaa nearly three weeks ago.

Feltman also held talks with Saleh’s son, Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, once widely seen to be next in line for the presidency until protests broke out earlier this year. No details emerged from the meeting.

As commander of the Republican Guards, the main strike force in Yemen, Ahmed Ali holds sway in the country of 23 million, which sits on the southern border of Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter.

Saleh has defied calls from global leaders, elements in his own military and tens of thousands of protesters to end his 33 year rule, which has brought Yemen close to financial ruin.

In an early bid to placate protesters demanding his ouster, Saleh guaranteed he would not hand power down to his son, but many Yemenis say key members of Saleh’s family including Ahmed Ali remain firmly in control of key levers of power, blocking any political transition without Saleh’s consent.

Opposition parties allied with youth activists have also insisted that Saleh formally hand over power to Hadi as a step toward a new government and democracy.

An aide to Saleh said on Wednesday his health was on the mend and that he had been receiving guests and giving instructions on day-to-day affairs in Yemen, including a power cut and fuel shortages.
“The president has rejected a request from several members of his family to come to Riyadh to visit him, and stressed that he will return home soon,” said Ahmed al-Sufi, the president’s media secretary told Reuters.

Dozens of al Qaeda militants escaped from a jail in southern Yemen on Wednesday following an attack on the compound.

One soldier was killed and two were wounded when militants opened fire on al-Munawara prison in al-Mukalla, a security official said.

“The militants opened fire on the prison gates and exchanged fire with the guards, injuring two and killing one,” the security official said, adding that 62 prisoners had fled.
All the prisoners were Yemeni and most of them had been jailed after returning from Iraq where they fought in militant ranks, he said.

(Writing by Sami Aboudi; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Obama Administration Renews Sanctions on Syria

May 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sue Pleming

2009-05-07T125052Z_01_SYR06_RTRMDNP_3_SYRIA-US

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem (R) meets Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, in Damascus May 7, 2009. The portrait on the wall shows Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Friday he had renewed sanctions against Syria because it posed a continuing threat to U.S. interests, despite sending two envoys to Damascus this week to try to improve ties.

In a letter notifying Congress of his decision, Obama accused Damascus of supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts in trying to stabilize Iraq.

“For these reasons I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect the national emergency declared with respect to this threat and to maintain in force the sanctions,” Obama said in the letter to Congress.

The sanctions, imposed by former President George W. Bush and which are up for renewal annually, prohibit arms exports to Syria, block Syrian airlines from operating in the United States and deny Syrians suspected of being associated with terrorist groups access to the U.S. financial system.

While the United States has made clear it wants better ties with Syria, which appears on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, the renewal of the sanctions shows it is not yet ready for a dramatic improvement.

“We need to see concrete steps from the Syrian government to move in another direction,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

Obama signed the executive order extending the sanctions on Thursday, shortly after two U.S. envoys met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Damascus.
The visit by senior State Department official Jeffrey Feltman and White House National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro was their second since Obama took office in January and started talking to Damascus.

Tough Words

The two officials discussed Syria’s role in Iraq, where Washington has accused Damascus of allowing fighters to cross into its neighbor, and Lebanon, where the United States says Syria plays a destabilizing role.

“Part of Feltman’s trip to the region was trying to get the Syrians to take some steps that will move us toward a better relationship,” Wood said. “But there is a lot that Syria needs to do.”

The United States wants a commitment from Syria that it will not interfere with a June election in neighboring Lebanon, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited last month to show U.S. support.

The administration hopes direct talks with Syria, which will continue despite the sanctions, will weaken its ties to Iran.

Syria and Iran are the main backers of Hizbollah, a Shi’ite Muslim political and guerrilla group that fought a war against Israel in 2006 and has representatives in the Lebanese government and parliament.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad indicated this week he did not plan to change course. After meeting Iran’s president in Damascus, he said their strategic relationship contributed to Middle East stability.

The administration is reviewing whether to send back an ambassador to Damascus but a senior U.S. official said this week a decision had not yet been taken.

The U.S. ambassador was pulled out of Syria after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Syria denies any involvement in the killing but the United States pointed fingers at Damascus.

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