Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton blasted the attack on the U.S. ambassador in Syria on Thursday, calling the assault by protesters loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “wholly unjustified,” the Associated Press reported.
Pro-Assad demonstrators assaulted the ambassador, Robert Ford, and several embassy personnel as he was visiting the head of the opposition Arab Socialist Democratic Union. The mob pelted the group with tomatoes and eggs before Syrian security forces escorted them to safety. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that Ford and his colleagues were attacked “while they were inside several embassy vehicles, seriously damaging the vehicles in the process," according to CNN.
The Obama administration, which has already called on Assad to step down and has imposed a raft of financial sanctions on the regime, decided to keep Ford in the country to serve as an interlocutor with Syria’s fragmented opposition groups and various actors in the country. Ford, who has been an outspoken advocate for the Syrian protesters, made news recently for attending a memorial service for a human-rights activist who died in Syrian custody and for showing up in various Syrian cities to show solidarity with protesters.
In a recent interview with National Journal, Ford pushed back against criticism that he should be removed from his post in Damascus in order to convey displeasure with the Assad regime.
“[U.S.] displeasure is well understood by the regime, and pulling me out wouldn’t significantly add to that message. By having a U.S. ambassador on the ground, we can draw more attention to what is going on in this country. I find myself on the embassy Facebook page frequently, for instance, because we discovered that a lot of Syrians read it,” Ford said in the interview.
“When they see a posting by me, it carries more weight than if it was just a press release or spokesman responding. So I continue to believe that not having an ambassador in Syria at this critical time would just amount to unilaterally disarming ourselves when we need to show support for a democratic transition here,” he told NJ.