State: Bashar Assad's regime is 'collapsing'

The State Department said Tuesday it agrees with the analysis of Syrian defector Riyad Hijab that Bashar Assad's regime is collapsing morally, economically and militarily.

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Hijab, the former Syrian prime minister, is the highest-ranking official to defect. In his first public statements Tuesday, he announced that the regime is collapsing and the government controls no more than 30 percent of the country.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States believes that the regime is on its way down.

Hijab "spoke very eloquently that the Assad regime is disintegrating morally, economically, financially and militarily. That's obvious from everything that we're seeing,” Nuland said in a briefing Tuesday. “As we've been saying for a number of weeks now, we do believe that the opposition is gaining control of more and more territory. I can't speak to the precise number that the former prime minister cited.”

She added: "Unfortunately, Assad has not yet left the country and given up power. So we do see the regime collapsing, but unless and until the bloodshed ends, I don't know that we could use the past tense" that it has collapsed. 

Hijab’s statement came on the same day that the Treasury Department announced it was lifting sanctions against him. Nuland said the decision was made "because he is no longer a member of the regime that is perpetrating this violence, he is no longer part of the crew that the sanctions were targeted against."

The United States imposed sanctions on Hijab and 28 other high-ranking Syrian officials in an attempt to put pressure on the regime.

The Syrian people could still want to hold Hijab partly accountable for the conflict, and Nuland said the decision to lift the sanctions should not be seen as a judgment on his accountability. She said the Syrian people, not the State Department, will ultimately make that ruling.

“This issue doesn't affect the question of what the Syrian people may or may not decide with regard to accountability for former regime officials,” Nuland said.

She added, “So when you have individuals who have broken with the regime, they should no longer be subject to those sanctions. That's a totally separate issue from what the Syrian people may decide on the accountability side.”

Activists say that more than 20,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising began last year, according to The Associated Press.

Hijab defected to Jordan last week with the help of rebels, he said. He encouraged those in the Syrian government to follow the lead of former regimes in Egypt and Tunisia and side with the people. The State Department said it expects that Hijab has broken ties with the regime and is working for a democratic Syria, Nuland said.