By Stephen Kaufman
The Obama administration estimates that the Syrian government is responsible for the death of at least 2,000 of its citizens since demonstrators began calling for greater political freedoms in March, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says.
In her August 4 remarks with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird in Washington, Clinton said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has “lost his legitimacy to govern the Syrian people.” She urged more countries to join with the United States in trying to increase pressure on Assad’s regime to end the violence against its people and allow real democratic reforms.
“We think to date, the government is responsible for the deaths of more than 2,000 people of all ages, and the United States has worked very hard to corral and focus international opinion to take steps toward a unified response to the atrocities that are occurring,” Clinton said.
“Sometimes you lose sight of the incredible tragedy unfolding on the streets by just looking at the numbers, which are so numbing, but the shooting death of a 1-year-old recently by the Syrian regime’s tanks and troops is a very stark example of what is going on,” she said.
Clinton said the Obama administration is committed to increasing the pressure on Syria, including through additional financial sanctions.
On August 4, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it had prohibited U.S. persons and businesses from engaging in financial or commercial transactions with Syrian parliamentarian and businessman Muhammad Hamsho, as well as his company, Hamsho International Group. The designation also froze any U.S. assets held by Hamsho and his company. The Obama administration has similarly sanctioned President Assad, his brother Mahir al-Assad, and other senior Syrian leaders and businesses with close ties to the regime in response to their violent crackdown against Syrian demonstrators.
“Muhammad Hamsho earned his fortune through his connections to regime insiders, and during the current unrest, he has cast his lot with Bashar al-Assad, Mahir al-Assad and others responsible for the Syrian government’s violence and intimidation against the Syrian people,” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in an August 4 Treasury Department press release. “The sanctions we are applying today to Hamsho and his company are the direct consequence of his actions.”
The press release added that members of the Syrian business community credit Hamsho’s business success to his close ties to Syria’s ruling elite, and charged that he paid large sums of money to secure his seat in parliament.
Clinton wants to see a broad international coalition speaking out against the violence in Syria and joining the United States in taking action.
“Frankly, we don’t have a lot of business with Syria. We need to get Europeans and others. We need to get the Arab states. We need to get a much louder, more effective chorus of voices that are putting pressure on the Assad regime, and we’re working to obtain that,” she said.
Foreign Minister Baird said the Assad regime’s behavior toward its people has been “abhorrent” and “absolutely disgraceful,” and he echoed Clinton’s call for more countries to pressure the regime to end the violence.
“Regrettably, we don’t have the same amount of international support at the U.N. for this, so I think in the absence of that, what we’ve got to continue to do is to work with like-minded allies,” Baird said. “There’s no country, I think, who can single-handedly tackle this challenge. We’ve got to work aggressively with others.”
On August 3, the U.N. Security Council approved a presidential statement condemning the Assad regime’s violation of human rights and its use of force against its people. Clinton welcomed the move, saying it was a sign that “other governments, other people’s voices are starting to be heard, and we think that’s essential.”
The secretary said the statement is “the first step of what we hope will be continuing steps to try to unite the world in both our rhetorical outrage” and in “actions that will send a very clear message to the Assad regime, the insiders there, that there’s a price to pay for this kind of abuse and attacks on their own people.”
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters August 3 that the Security Council statement had been “long overdue,” but it was “important and strong.”
“Finally we were able to speak with one voice in clearly condemning the violence perpetrated against civilians by the Syrian government and call for a halt to the violence and insist that what has transpired is utterly unacceptable,” she said.
Rice said the United States had strongly supported a resolution that would have imposed penalties on the Assad regime, but said it was important that the statement had given “a clear and unified condemnation” of the regime’s actions.
“We didn’t want a split Council and we didn’t want a weak statement,” she said.
“Hopefully, the people of Syria will get the sense that there are many in the international community, including in the Security Council, who are deeply concerned, profoundly troubled by the violence, who see their efforts and their peaceful protest as just. And the government will hopefully also be chastened by the strength and the unity of the condemnation,” Rice said.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)