Last updated: 1 March, 2012

US: Syrian regime under greater stress now

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is under a lot more stress than it was just two months ago and it will eventually fall, senior US diplomats told a Senate panel on Thursday.

US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Syrian military, which has led an 11-month bloody crackdown against pro-democracy protesters, is “more challenged” as they suffer a “steady stream” of defections.

“The military have so far retained their cohesion, the security services have retained their cohesion, but they are under significantly more stress,” said Ford, who left his post a month ago when the United States closed the Damascus embassy for security reasons.

The business community is “very unhappy” and the Assad regime has changed its policies to “placate” them, and the leadership is also worried about their eroding support in the street, Ford added.

The ambassador said he believes the regime understands “this is the biggest challenge” to it during 40 years of Assad family rule.

Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said the Syrian people have demonstrated “enormous courage” despite the brutality and deprivation they have suffered.

“We don’t know for sure when the tipping point, the breaking point will come… but it will come,” he told the same panel. “The demise of the Assad regime is inevitable.”

The United States had received no sign the Syrian regime has lost control of its chemical weapons stocks but Washington is monitoring the issue closely, Feltman said.

US officials have expressed concern about the security of the suspected chemical arms stockpiles as opposition pro-democracy protests turn increasingly into an armed rebellion against Assad’s rule.

“This is a topic that is being discussed actively with Syria’s neighbors, with our allies in Europe and elsewhere,” Feltman said, when asked about weapons of mass destruction.

“Syria is not even a signatory of the chemical weapon conventions. This is just a reminder of the destabilizing role that Syria has played over the years, the fact that these stockpile even exist,” Feltman said.

“We don’t have any indication at this point that these stockpiles have fallen out of control of the Syrian government.

“But it’s one of the reasons why a managed transition is so important rather than a chaotic transition,” he added.

Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation, said last month that Washington is urging Syria’s neighbors to be on the “lookout” to ensure no weapons cross their borders.

He was referring both to chemical weapons as well as stockpiles of portable shoulder-fired missiles.

Countryman said the United States also suspected Syria possessed “tens of thousands” of such missiles which could target civilian aircraft if they fell into “terrorist hands.”

US officials worried about the fate of both chemical weapons and shoulder-fired missiles in Libya following the overthrow of Colonel Moamer Kadhafi last year.

They said Libya’s chemical weapons stockpiles are now secure but could not account for all of the shoulder-fired missiles.