January 11th, 2012
05:54 PM ET

U.S. blasts Syria's al-Assad

By Elise Labott

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday the Arab League monitoring mission in Syria could not continue indefinitely, as the U.S. Embassy reduced its staff in Damascus over concern about the security situation there.

In a travel warning issued Wednesday, the State Department said it has ordered a number of embassy employees to leave the country as soon as possible.

At a press conference with Qatar's prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Clinton said, "I think it's clear to both the prime minister and myself that the monitoring mission should not continue indefinitely."

"We cannot permit Assad and his regime to have impunity," Clinton said, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "Syrians deserve a peaceful transition."

The Arab League, which suspended Syria in November over its crackdown on protesters, sent an observer mission to Syria last month. It decided to delay sending more monitors after some of its observers were attacked earlier this week.

"Two weeks ago, Arab League monitors arrived in Syria to judge whether the regime was keeping its promise to end the killings, withdraw its troops, release political prisoners and follow through on the commitments that it had made," Clinton said. "So far, the regime has not done so."

Clinton dismissed Tuesday's speech by al-Assad as "chillingly cynical." In the speech he blamed foreign interference for the 10-month old protests against his regime and vowed to crush" terrorism" with an iron fist.

In his speech, al-Assad mocked the Arab League, vowed to hit "terrorists" with an iron fist and promised reforms, but with no hint that he would relinquish the power he inherited from his father in 2000.

"Instead of taking responsibility, what we hear from President Assad in his chillingly cynical speech yesterday was only making excuses, blaming foreign countries, conspiracies," Clinton said.

The secretary of state said the United States was looking to work with the Arab League when the monitoring mission expires on January 19.

Al-Thani, who in addition to being prime minister is also foreign minister of Qatar, voiced increasing doubts that the monitors would be able to stop the bloodshed.

"I could not see up until now a successful mission, frankly speaking," al-Thani said, adding that monitors' final report later this month could help guide the next steps on the crisis.

"This report will be very important for us to make the right judgment," he said. "We hope we solve it, as we say, in the House of the Arabs but right now the Syrian government is not helping us."

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