Beirut, Lebanon — King Abdullah of Jordan added his voice on Monday to the growing pressure on the president of Syria to relinquish power, becoming the first Arab leader on Syria’s doorstep to call for a change in government to end the increasingly bloody political uprising there.
The Jordanian monarch’s remarks, made in an interview with the BBC, came as Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, was still smarting from the Arab League’s unexpectedly strong rebuke over the weekend with its decision to suspend Syria’s membership. Syria also faced additional sanctions imposed Monday by the European Union.
“I believe, if I were in his shoes, I would step down,” King Abdullah told the BBC. “If Bashar has the interest of his country, he would step down, but he would also create an ability to reach out and start a new phase of Syrian political life.”
Other countries in the region with historically close ties to Syria, notably Turkey and Iran, have warned Mr. Assad that he should take steps to satisfy the demands of protesters in the eight-month-old uprising, which has now become a focal point in the Arab Spring revolts that have felled autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. But the public comments about Mr. Assad by King Abdullah — who has faced some Arab Spring protests in his own country — went beyond what others have said.
Earlier Monday, Mr. Assad’s foreign minister said the Arab League suspension was “an extremely dangerous step.” But he also apologized for a spree of attacks on foreign embassies in Syria by pro-Assad loyalists outraged over the Arab League move.
The minister, Walid al-Moallem, speaking at a televised news conference in Damascus, reiterated Syria’s contention that it had complied with the terms of a proposed Arab League peace plan by withdrawing its armed troops from urban areas, releasing political prisoners and offering pardons to militants.
But rights activists in Syria — as well as a majority of Arab League members — have said Syria has failed to comply with the peace plan, pointing to new violence in Syria since it agreed to the plan on Nov. 2. Activists said that more than 240 people were killed from the day the plan was announced until last week.
The majority of the deaths were in Homs, a restive city in central Syria that was subjected to a major military assault days after the peace initiative was announced.
The United Nations said this month that at least 3,500 people have been killed in Syria since the uprising started in March. The government disputed the death toll and blamed the unrest on armed groups who the government said have killed more than 1,100 soldiers and police officers.
Mr. Moallem also played down any prospects of an international military intervention in Syria, like the NATO-led campaign against Libya that helped topple the government of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in August.
“The Libyan scenario will not be repeated,” Mr. Moallem said, adding that Western and Arab countries know that the cost to confront the Syrian military would be high. He also said that he was confident that Russia and China would continue to oppose any resolutions against Syria in the United Nations Security Council. Russia and China vetoed a decision in October against Syria in the United Nations.
Mr. Moallem said he regretted the attacks on the embassies and consulates of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and France by angry demonstrators that took place in Damascus and other cities on Saturday, shortly after the Arab League announced the suspension decision.
“As for attacks on foreign embassies, as the foreign minister I apologize for these aggressions,” he said.
Mr. Moallem said that his government was organizing a national dialogue with opposition figures and other members of the Syrian society, who are represented by neither the government nor the opposition.
Syria called Sunday for an emergency Arab League summit to discuss the political unrest and invited officials to visit the country before the suspension decision goes into effect on Wednesday, to oversee the implementation of the Arab peace plan. Whether such an emergency summit would be convened had not been decided by late Monday.
In Cairo, Nabil el-Araby, the secretary general of the Arab League, said that he had forwarded Syria’s request for an emergency summit to other members. He also said he was moving forward with a tentative plan to protect civilians in Syria by deploying observers around the country from at least 16 Arab human rights organizations who had all volunteered to participate.
The tentative plan is to deploy 400 or 500 observers, Mr. Araby said in a brief interview, and that he hoped to finalize the proposal to present to a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers, who are to meet in Rabat on Wednesday. Whether Syria would even allow these observers into the country is not clear, especially if the Rabat meeting confirms Syria’s suspension from the league, as expected.
The European Union, meanwhile, sought to intensify pressure on Syria, imposing additional sanctions against some of the country’s citizens and restricting investment.
But foreign ministers meeting in Brussels said there were no plans to take military action against Mr. Assad’s government in Damascus similar to the campaign that led to the overthrow and death of Colonel Qaddafi.
“This is a different situation from Libya,” said William Hague, the British foreign secretary. “There is no United Nations Security Council resolution, and Syria is a much more complex situation.”
On Monday, foreign ministers agreed to freeze the assets of 18 Syrians and ban them from traveling to the European Union. The move brings the total number of Syrians affected by the restrictions to 74.
The ministers also stopped the European Investment Bank, a lender with a major focus on overseas development, from giving Syria additional loan payments and they halted other activities by the bank in Syria.
”It’s very important in the European Union that we consider additional measures to add to the pressure on the Assad regime to stop the unacceptable violence against the people of Syria,” said Mr. Hague.
The E.U. said it would keep the funds of 19 companies and institutions in Syria frozen. A European embargo on Syrian oil already devastated that sector, reducing oil production by as much as 75 percent. Syria’s oil exports represented anywhere from 15 percent to 35 percent of the state budget, and more than 90 percent of those exports went to Europe.
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