Washington – President Obama called on Thursday for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to leave power, and issued a new executive order providing for additional sanctions. It is the first time the United States has explicitly called for Mr. Assad’s departure from power.
“For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” Mr. Obama says in the statement issued by the White House.
The actions come in response to the deadly crackdown Syrian forces have been waging against pro-democracy protesters across the country.
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Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was scheduled to speak at 10 a.m. Eastern time about the sanctions, which the official said would be much sterner than previous measures. “We believe that this very tough action will lend additional force to the president’s words,” an administration official said shortly before the statement was issued.
The United States notified its Arab and European allies of the impending announcement, news services reported.
There have been signs for days that the United States may be close to making such a call, but until Thursday, officials had pushed back against the reports, as Secretary Clinton appeared to do as recently as Tuesday.
“It’s not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go,” she said then, during an appearance at the National Defense University in Washington. “O.K. Fine. What’s next? If Turkey says it, if King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it.”
Intensive diplomatic negotiations have been under way for days, variously involving Syrian, Turkish, American and other officials. The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, spent six hours last week with Mr. Assad, appealing to him to end the crackdown, one of the bloodiest in the Arab uprising.
Turkey, which has had close relations with Syria, said that its message was that it had run out of patience. But Mr. Assad rebuffed the appeal, saying that he would continue his fight against protesters he has dismissed as militant Islamists and terrorists.
American diplomats had said they were aware that they had limited influence with Syria and that an American statement alone was not likely to have much impact on Syrian behavior.
But pressure has been building against the Damascus government. Tunisia recalled its ambassador from Damascus on Wednesday, as Saudi Arabia had done earlier.