By Elise Labott
The United States is considering closing its embassy in Damascus, Syria because of security concerns, two senior U.S. officials tell CNN.
The embassy has only a "handful" of staff working with Ambassador Robert Ford. Most of the staff were evacuated earlier in the year and the diplomatic team was further reduced last week.
"We have had increasing concerns of the safety of our personnel, one senior State Department official said. "We have not made any decisions but it is under serious consideration."
The U.S. has asked the Syrian government for increased security around the embassy. In October, the U.S. pulled Ford after he was attacked by what a U.S. official described as an "armed mob" in Damascus. He returned in December.
"Our decisions will be based on that" another senior official said. "It is not clear they will do what we need."
Closing the embassy would effectively severe any remaining diplomatic relations with Syria. In addition, there is concern that the removal of Ambassador Ford would hamper a key American outreach to Syrian opposition.
The State Department issued a statement late Friday saying no decision has been made but the U.S. has "serious concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Damascus, including the recent spate of car bombs, and about the safety and security of embassy personnel."
"We have requested that the government of Syria take additional security measures to protect our embassy, and the Syrian government is considering that request. We have also advised the Syrian government that unless concrete steps are taken in the coming days we may have no choice but to close the mission," the statement said.
A third senior State Department official insists that no final decision has been made.
"This is not the end of the story," the official said, adding that Ambassador Ford "will stay if we are able to have the right type of physical steps that would give us security at the embassy."
The official said while the Syrian government is not welcoming Ambassador Ford for regular discussions about the violence, the Syrian government has been willing to talk to him about various options to protect the embassy.
"We have taken to them some very real security concerns we have about the facility," the official said.
"They have taken our concerns seriously and are engaged," the official said. "They have taken some steps, but at this point they are not sufficient to address what we see is a very real threat against the embassy buildings."
Growing American concerns about the security of the embassy further heightened after suicide attackers exploded two car bombs outside Syrian security facilities last month, which this official said "bear all the hallmarks of al Qaeda."
The official stressed the U.S. has no information about who was involved in the attacks, although Syria has blamed al-Qaeda.
Syrian authorities have restricted traffic around government facilities and added barriers, steps the official said the U.S. and other embassies with similar concerns asked the regime to take.
The official noted that the American embassy in Damascus is not set back very far from the road. The embassy survived a bomb attack in 2006 because the device did not detonate.
It also comes as the U.S. is asking the Syrian government for information regarding an American man who is reported to have been arrested in Aleppo. Abdelkadar Chaar, 22, was born in Syracuse, New York, moved to Aleppo with his parents when he was a boy and is currently a medical student at Aleppo University, his uncle Sam Chaar told CNN. The medical student was arrested early in the morning on January 8; his family has not been told why, the elder Chaar said.
The U.S. requested confirmation of the arrest and consular access from the Syrians, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Friday.
Syria smoldered Friday as anti-government demonstrators poured into the streets and the Arab League mulled an extension of its monitoring mission. Protesters focused their attention on political prisoners and demanded the release of detainees. At least 10 people were slain in clashes Friday, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an opposition activist group.