Mark Toner, State
Department: Syrians Should Reject Amnesty Offer
November 10, 2011
United States Wednesday again advised opponents of Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad not to accept a government offer of amnesty if they
surrender weapons. Syria alleges the stance signals U.S. support for
armed insurrection, which the United States denies.
The initial U.S. admonition against the amnesty offer late last week
drew an angry response from the Syrian Foreign Ministry.
But the State Department reaffirmed its position Wednesday, saying
opponents would be “unwise” to accept the offer, given the Assad
government’s brutal track record.
The Damascus government, in tandem with its nominal acceptance of an
Arab League peace plan for the country, last week said it was giving
armed protestors a week to turn themselves in along with their weapons.
The government said those who surrendered and had not killed anyone
would be released in a short time.
In a dismissive comment last Friday, a State Department spokeswoman said
she would not advise anyone to turn himself in to Damascus authorities -
drawing a Syrian charge the United States was encouraging sedition
murder and terrorism.
Briefing reporters Wednesday, State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark
Toner said the United States does not condone violence in Syria and
stands by its advice on the amnesty.
“We believe it would be unwise for regime opponents to turn themselves
in, quite simply put, given the Assad regime’s track record of
lawlessness, torture and thuggery against the opposition," said Toner.
"We don’t believe that it’s in anyone’s interest to turn themselves in
voluntarity to the Assad regime.”
Toner said the hostile Syrian reaction to the U.S. comments was part of
an effort by Damascus authorities to inject the United States into a
conflict that he said is really between the Syrian government and its
Human rights groups say some 3,500 civilians, mostly peaceful
demonstrators, have been killed in Syrian unrest since the
pro-democratic campaign began in March. The Assad government says armed
groups are driving the unrest and that hundreds of security personnel
have been killed.
In U.S. Senate Sub-Committee testimony Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of
State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said the United States
intends to work with friends and allies to tighten political and
economic pressure on President Assad, while supporting Syria’s
He said the Syrian leader, head of what he termed a “family-led mafia
that’s hijacked the state,” is trying to turn the peaceful protest
movement into an insurgency.
knows how to deal with violence. He just uses violence against
violence," said Feltman. "What confounds him is this phenomenon of
protestors yelling ‘peaceful, peaceful,’ of shopkeepers closing their
shops in solidarity with the protestors. That’s what really puts Bashar
al-Assad in a bind. And that’s why we’ve been encouraging the
opposition, despite the tremendous brutality they’re facing, to keep to
the peaceful principles to which they’ve subscribed.”
The State Department’s chief Middle East expert said the Syrian leader
has become a regional pariah and can’t last in office indefinitely.
Feltman said U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, recently withdrawn
from Syria over security threats, will return to his post soon.
Ford has drawn the ire of Syrian authorities for meeting with Syrian
opposition figures and paying an unauthorized visit to the protest
hotbed city of Hama last July.