Syria envoy summoned over filming of US protests

Date: 7/8/2011

By Spencer Platt | AFP – Fri, Jul 8, 2011

Washington summoned the Syrian ambassador for talks this week after reports that embassy staff had filmed US protests against the crackdown in Syria, the State Department said Friday.

Ambassador Imad Mustapha was called in to meet with top State Department officials "to express a number of our concerns with the reported actions of certain Syrian embassy staff in the United States," the agency said.

"We received reports that Syrian mission personnel under Ambassador Mustapha's authority have been conducting video and photographic surveillance of people participating in peaceful demonstrations in the United States."

Mustapha met with Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell on Wednesday, according to a State Department statement.

The move comes amid escalating tensions between Damascus and Washington over the Syrian government's crackdown on months of opposition protests seeking to oust President Bashar al–Assad.

The State Department said it was investigating reports the Syrian government "has sought retribution against Syrian family members for the actions of their relatives in the United States exercising their lawful rights in this country."

"The United States government takes very seriously reports of any foreign government actions attempting to intimidate individuals in the United States who are exercising their lawful right to freedom of speech as protected by the US Constitution," it added.

Earlier, the State Department said it was dismayed by criticism from Syria over a visit by the US ambassador to Hama, slamming as "absolute rubbish" the charge that his presence in the restive city was a provocation.

Ambassador Robert Ford left Hama at midday Friday after meeting several demonstrators and returned to Damascus, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, adding the Syrian authorities had been informed in advance of the visit.

"Frankly we're a little bit dismayed" at the Syrian reaction, Nuland said in Washington, adding the idea that Ford's trip to the flashpoint city was a surprise for the Syrian government "doesn't make sense."

A senior US official speaking on condition of anonymity Thursday said Ford had ventured to the city some 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of the capital "to make contact" with opposition leaders.

Nuland acknowledged that Ford was there in part to witness the mass demonstrations, which drew hundreds of thousands of anti–regime protesters into the streets after Friday prayers.

Damascus swiftly denounced the move as an incitement to violence and a meddling in Syria's internal affairs.


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