US orders Syria to close DC embassy

The Obama administration on Tuesday said it has ordered the Syrian government to suspend all of its diplomatic operations in the United States.

Daniel Rubinstein, the new special envoy to Syria, said the administration has determined that it is unacceptable for Syrian officials to conduct diplomatic or consular work in the U.S., given the atrocities that President Bashar Assad has committed against his people.

He said Syria must suspend all operations at its embassy in Washington, as well as at its honorary consulates in Houston and Troy, Mich.

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“Syrian diplomats at the embassy and Syrian honorary consulates are no longer permitted to perform diplomatic or consular functions and those who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents must depart the United States,” Rubinstein said in a statement.

The order stopped short of a full break in diplomatic relations with Syria.

The U.S. “continues to maintain diplomatic relations with the state of Syria as an expression of our longstanding ties with the Syrian people, an interest that will endure long after Bashar al-Assad leaves power,” he said. 

The brutal civil war in Syria this week is entering its third year. Rubenstein said the U.S. would continue to assist to help those seeking change in Syria, to help end the slaughter, and to resolve the crisis through negotiations. 

“This week marks the three-year anniversary of the Syrian revolution. For three years, Bashar al-Assad has refused to heed the call of the Syrian people to step aside. He has directed a war against his own people and created a humanitarian catastrophe in order to hold on to power and protect his narrow interests,” he said. 

The top members of the House Foreign Affairs Commitee applauded the move in a statement, and called on the White House to break diplomatic ties with the Assad regime altogether.

"I welcome this overdue action," said Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), chariman of the committee. "But it would be withdrawal of our diplomatic recognition of the regime that would signal strong American support for the Syrian people." 

The committee's ranking member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) called suspension of the embassy and consulate activities an "important and welcome step," but said he tooked forward to the administration putting forth a detailed strategy to help bring the conflict to an end. 

The two introduced a bill four days ago, calling on the Obama Administration to withdraw official recognition of the Assad regime.

"The longer this war goes on, the more dangerous and unstable the regime will become," Engel said.