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US - Syria relations dip to new low -

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US - Syria relations dip to new low

Jane Cowan reported this story on Tuesday, October 25, 2011 08:00:00

TONY EASTLEY: The United States has pulled its ambassador out of Syria over concerns for his
safety.

Robert Ford, who's the first American ambassador to Damascus in five years, has been a vocal critic
of president Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown on political protest.

North America correspondent, Jane Cowan reports.

(Sound of gunfire)

JANE COWAN: In Syria, after seven months of unrest, there's no let up in the violence.

A video posted on social websites purports to show a young protester being shot as he tried to drag
a body off a street north of Damascus.

(Sound of shot and people yelling)

As mourners buried the man, the US pulled its ambassador Robert Ford from Syria, citing credible
threats to his personal safety.

The State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland was choosing her words carefully.

VICTORIA NULAND: Ambassador Ford has been asked to come home for consultations. He has not been
withdrawn, he has not been recalled. He has been asked to come home for consultations.

JANE COWAN: Robert Ford had upset Syrian leaders by publicly supporting protesters, who are
challenging 41 years of rule by the Assad family.

He'd defied a travel ban on western diplomats by going to hot spots and meeting with
anti-government demonstrators.

He also paid condolences to the family of a young protest leader who died.

Last month Ford was part of a group pelted with eggs and tomatoes while visiting an opposition
figure.

(Sounds of people yelling)

The State Department spokesman, Victoria Nuland urged the Syrian government to end what she called
a "smear campaign of malicious and deceitful propaganda".

VICTORIA NULAND: We are concerned about a campaign of regime-led incitement targeted personally at
ambassador Ford by the state run media of the government of Syria. And we're concerned about the
security situation that that has created.

JANE COWAN: In the wake of Robert Ford's departure, Syrian television reported that Damascus had
pulled its ambassador out of the US.

It all signals a further deterioration of relations between the Syrian regime and Washington, which
has called for Assad to step down and deepened sanctions to include the country's small but key oil
sector.

The US says it hopes ambassador Ford can return to Damascus, but hasn't said when.

This is Jane Cowan in Washington for AM.