President Obama on Thursday called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, a demand aimed to ratchet up the diplomatic pressure on the leader who has launched a bloody crackdown on his own people for months.
"For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside," Obama said in a statement.
The president has signed an executive order to block property and prohibit certain transactions with respect to Syria, the White House announced.
The order immediately freezes all the Syrian government's assets under U.S. jurisdiction and bans Americans from "engaging in any transaction involving the government of Syria."
It also bans U.S. imports of Syrian-origin petroleum or petroleum products; prohibits U.S. persons from having any dealings in or related to Syria’s petroleum or petroleum products; and prohibits U.S. persons from operating or investing in Syria, the statement said.
Obama also says he expects his actions "to be amplified by others."
Speaking to reporters Thursday morning Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated the White House statements. "The people of Syria deserve a government that respects their dignity ... their rights and lives up to their aspirations. Assad is standing in their way," Clinton said. "For the sake of the Syrian people the time has come for him to step aside and leave this transition to the Syrians themselves."
Even though the Obama administration has condemned the scale and brutality of Assad’s crackdown on the Syrian people, even going so far to say that Assad has “lost legitimacy,” it had stopped short of calling for him to step down.
The announcement is the next step in escalating diplomatic pressure on Damascus, which finds itself increasingly isolated as photos and videos of the violence in cities such as Hama, a flash point for protests, continue to spread around the world. The U.S. had already imposed sanctions on Assad, his family, and many of his top aides.The U.N. Security Council also condemned the violence in a presidential statement. Still, the measures had done little to ease Assad’s crackdown.
Earlier on Thursday, a high-level U.N. human-rights team found that government forces in Syria may have committed crimes against humanity by launching “widespread or systematic attacks” that targeted children, tortured prisoners, and executed demonstrators during the uprising. The U.N. investigators, who found that at least 1,900 people had been killed in the unrest during the four months until mid-July, recommended that the U.N. Security Council refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.