WASHINGTON (JTA) — Syrian President Bashar Assad is "not indispensable" and the West has "nothing invested" in keeping him in power, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said.
The remarks by Clinton, holding a press conference Monday with Catherine Ashton, the top European Union foreign policy official, were the closest that the Obama administration and its European allies have come to calling for Assad’s ouster.
"President Assad is not indispensable and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power," Clinton said in a State Department briefing, while Ashton nodded in assent.
The two officials called on Assad to end increasing violence against democracy protesters and to protect diplomats.
In recent days pro-Assad rioters have stormed the French and U.S. embassies in the wake of visits by ambassadors of those countries to areas where pro-democracy protests have been most intense.
Israeli officials have in recent weeks said they would welcome Assad’s removal, a departure from a decades-old "devil you know" approach predicated on the assumption that whatever regime replaced the Assad dynasty would be as bad or worse.
Some conservative groups in the United States have called on the Obama administration to directly call for Assad’s removal.
Obama administration officials are saying that the forthright statements and actions of Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Damascus, in confronting the Assad regime — and the resulting pro-American sentiment among democracy protesters — have vindicated Obama’s decision to reverse Bush administration policy and return an ambassador to Syria.
A number of pro-Israel groups and Congress members had opposed Ford’s appointment.