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U.S. Policy In Syria Could No Longer Be Defended, Ex-Ambassador Says


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. President Obama's former point man on Syria resigned because he can no longer defend U.S. policy there. Ambassador Robert Ford was once known for dramatic gestures supporting Syria's opposition. But Ford says, as the uprising became a civil war he was frustrated by limited U.S. support for rebels. And even now, Ford told the "PBS NewsHour" he is not sure the Obama administration is doing enough.


ROBERT FORD: It's not clear to me yet if they are prepared to ramp it up in such a way that will be meaningful on the ground. And that's really what matters. This is a civil war. And we can't get to a political negotiation until the balance on the ground compels - and I use that word precisely - compels Assad not to run sham elections, but rather to negotiate a political deal. But the situation on the ground is key.

INSKEEP: That's former U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford. NPR's Deborah Amos has interviewed Ford over the years and joins us now from a town on the border with Syria and Turkey. Hi Deb.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.

INSKEEP: How significant a voice is Robert Ford?

AMOS: He was the point man for Syrian policy through this revolt. For him to speak out now, this close to the moment where he left the administration, is important. He did not voice any of those frustrations as a diplomat. He did defend the policy when he was a diplomat. And now that he's quit, he is remarkably speaking out. There have been others - Fred Hoff, also from the State Department, also resigned, said that he was frustrated by the policy and has been writing regularly. So now we have two senior diplomats who are saying publicly that they are frustrated.

INSKEEP: Saying that the U.S. should be doing more now. In our interview with President Obama last week, he tried to explain why he's been reluctant to get too involved in Syria. Let's listen to some of that, Deb Amos.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Ultimately, I did not think then and I still do not believe that American military actions can resolve what is increasingly a sectarian civil war. And I also believe that, ultimately, the only way you're going to get a resolution that works for the Syrian people in the region is going to require some sort of political accommodation between the various groups there.

INSKEEP: Deb Amos, they're both talking about a political solution - Robert Ford and President Obama. So what is the difference here?

AMOS: I did notice that. And I think the difference is how you get there. Ex-ambassador Ford is saying how you get there is you support moderate rebels. You put pressure on the regime. They are not going to come to any negotiating table without that kind of pressure. And there is not enough. We just saw yesterday an election in Damascus. Many Western governments, certainly the opposition, called it a shameful sham. But nevertheless, it demonstrated the resilience of the regime. There is no diplomatic solution in sight. And so, this war is likely to go on for some time to come until there is some reason for the Assad regime to negotiate with the opposition.

INSKEEP: Deb Amos, just to underline the stakes here - would you remind us just where you are?

AMOS: I am in a town called Kilis. It is a Turkish border town. Here - I haven't been here in a while, and I noticed that many of the shop signs are in Arabic now. This town is 50-50 - half Syrian refugees. Many thousands have arrived just since January from the Syrian town of Aleppo, where there has been a hellacious campaign of barrel bombs. Regime helicopters have been dropping them on civilian areas. You see kids begging on the streets. It is a town that has been awash with Syrian refugees. This is the spillover of the war in Syria.

INSKEEP: Reminder of the human stakes. From NPR's Deborah Amos. Deb, thanks very much.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.