15 February 2005
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Recalled Following Assassination of Hariri
U.S. says Syrian presence in Lebanon does not provide security in Lebanon
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recalled the U.S. Ambassador to Syria Margaret Scobey for urgent consultations following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said in a statement February 15.
Before leaving Damascus, Ambassador Scobey delivered a message to the Syrian government, expressing the U.S. government's deep concern and profound outrage over "this heinous act of terrorism," Boucher's statement said.
Speaking to reporters in his daily briefing at the State Department February 15, Boucher said there has been no determination of responsibility for the assassination, but the United States will be carefully watching "whether there is a thorough investigation to see what information can be found to indicate responsibility."
Boucher said the recall is not a withdrawal of the ambassador or a downgrading of relations. He said the recall of the ambassador following the assassination is linked to the distortions of Lebanese politics that are created by the Syrian military presence in Lebanon.
"It has not provided internal security for Lebanon. And therefore, in light of that kind of event, we need to look at the whole range of issues that we've had, including Syrian presence in Lebanon. And that's what we're going to do with our ambassador when she comes back," Boucher said.
Following are the text of Boucher's statement and excerpts from the transcript of his daily briefing about the recall of the ambassador:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Statement by Richard Boucher, Spokesman
U.S. Recalls U.S. Ambassador to Syria
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has decided to recall Ambassador Margaret Scobey, the United States Ambassador to the Syrian Arab Republic, for urgent consultations following the brutal murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14. Ambassador Scobey will be returning imminently to Washington from Damascus.
Following the murder of former Prime Minister Hariri, Ambassador Scobey delivered a message to the Syrian Government expressing our deep concern as well as our profound outrage over this heinous act of terrorism. Syria maintains a sizeable presence of military and intelligence officials in Lebanon, in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1559. Yesterday's bombing calls into question the stated reason behind this presence of Syrian security forces: Lebanon's internal security. The Lebanese people must be free to express their political preferences and choose their own representatives, without intimidation and the threat of violence.
In recent months, we have raised repeatedly with senior officials of the Syrian Government a number of issues, including the Syrian presence in Lebanon, the continued presence and operational activities of international terrorist groups and the Iranian regime on and through Syrian territory, and the use of Syrian territory by the Iraqi insurgency. To date, these concerns have not been adequately addressed. We again call upon the Syrian government to take positive action on all these matters.
Boucher's responses to questions about Hariri, Lebanon, and Syria at his daily briefing:
BOUCHER: I wouldn't speculate on how long. There's no particular time period set for it right now, and I'm not in a position to speculate on how long it might be.
She'll come back. We're going to talk to her about all these different things, all these issues that have come up in our relationship with Syria.
QUESTION: Secondly, the administration officials from various departments have talked about the possibility of imposing additional sanctions on Syria either under the Syria Accountability Act or, I think, related to the Patriot Act, that may now fall under that act as well.
Do the events in Lebanon yesterday that led to your decision to recall the ambassador move you further down the road toward imposing sanctions?
BOUCHER: I think if you look for example what Secretary Rice said during the course of her travel in the region, that we are, indeed, concerned about many aspects of Syrian behavior and the longer we go on without seeing some significant progress in these areas, the more likely it becomes that we'll look to the various tools that we have, including the Syrian Accountability Act to impose further measures.
So that's a matter I'm sure we'll be discussing as we go forward, but I don't have anything for you now.
QUESTION: With the ambassador on her return?
BOUCHER: Certainly, she'll be involved in all those discussions.
QUESTION: Just to be clear, this recall of the ambassador is not a withdrawal of the ambassador in terms of any kind of downgrade of relations for the time being?
BOUCHER: No, she's returning to Washington for consultations with us about the full range of problems that we've seen and had in the relationship with Syria, about the lack of progress in many of these areas and about what we can do to move forward, and hopefully to see the kind of progress that we would like to see.
QUESTION: Are you considering downgrading the relationship?
BOUCHER: At this point I'll just stick to this particular step.
QUESTION: Has their been any reaction from Syria or any reciprocal diplomatic response?
BOUCHER: They would have to decide any measures or anything related to their ambassador.
Our ambassador delivered the points that I'm talking about, the message to the Syrian government, last night and again this morning -- two different places in the foreign ministry.
And I'm not going to try to characterize their reaction at this point.
QUESTION: At all? I mean, did they have a reaction?
BOUCHER: I'm not going to try to characterize it. Certainly, they reacted. Yes.
QUESTION: Has the secretary, or has the department called in the Syrian ambassador here to protest?
BOUCHER: We have talked several times to the Syrian Ambassador here. Remember, many of these problems go back months. They go back to Ambassador Burns' trip in September. They go back to Deputy Secretary Armitage's trip to Damascus in January.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Satterfield met with the Syrian ambassador here last Monday, February 7th. And I suspect that we may talk to the ambassador here again, but I don't have anything particular scheduled at this point.
QUESTION: You suspect you don't?
BOUCHER: I don't have anything particular scheduled at this point.
QUESTION: When Assistant Secretary Burns goes to Lebanon to attend Hariri's funeral, does he have any plans to meet with Syrian officials to lodge any other concerns, protests?
BOUCHER: At this point, I think what I can tell you is, Assistant Secretary Burns is planning on going to Lebanon for the funeral.
My understanding is that he will have some courtesy meetings with members of the Lebanese government. I'm not aware of anything scheduled with the Syrians.
QUESTION: You said that the ambassador is being recalled after the incident yesterday. Does that mean that now you believe that Syria has something to do with the incident?
BOUCHER: We have not made any determination of responsibility in this particular incident, in this assassination. It was horrible. And we certainly condemn it again and offer our condolences.
But we don't have a determination of responsibility yet. We and others in the international community will be following very carefully to see whether there is a thorough investigation to see what information can be found to indicate responsibility.
I think the reason that this particular incident is related to the, sort of, step of recalling our ambassador is that the incident is a horrible thing that happened that shows the distortions of Lebanese politics that are created by the Syrian presence. It shows that the excuse, the reason, the rationale that's given for the Syrian presence really doesn't work.
It has not provided internal security for Lebanon. And therefore, in light of that kind of event, we need to look at the whole range of issues that we've had, including Syrian presence in Lebanon. And that's what we're going to do with our ambassador when she comes back.
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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