WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Wednesday expressed reservations about whether Damascus would live up to an Arab League plan aimed at ending a violent crackdown on protesters and repeated the U.S. call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
The U.S. State Department said it would review details of a deal announced by the Arab League under which it said Syria had agreed to a complete halt to violence, the release of prisoners, removing the military presence from cities and residential areas and allowing the Arab League and media access to report on the situation.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland suggested that Washington had doubts about the viability of the plan.
“Syria’s made a lot of promises to the international community in the past,” Nuland told a news briefing, saying the core issue was “a real process of democratization in Syria.”
“That is the basis on which we will judge whatever has been agreed to here,” Nuland said. “We’re not going to judge them by their words, we’re going to judge them by their actions.”
“There is a risk here that they are trying to string out diplomacy, that they are trying to offer their own people half steps, or quarter measures, rather than taking the real steps.”
The White House said Assad should step aside, repeating a call made repeatedly since U.S. President Barack Obama in August said the long-time Syrian ruler was standing in the way of real reform in the country.
“Our position remains that President Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule and should step down,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
“We support all international efforts that are aimed toward convincing the regime to stop attacking its own people.”
The United States has imposed a series of sanctions on Syrian officials and government organizations since Damascus launched the crackdown in March, and Nuland said Washington remained concerned about continued violence despite the Arab League mediation effort.
“We’ve seen Syria saying publicly its prepared to accept the (Arab League) proposals, at the same time we’ve also seen new violence at the hands of the regime in Syria itself,” Nuland said.
“There is concern that even as they say they’re prepared for peace they are still exacting violence and brutality on their own people.”
The United States pulled its ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, out of Syria on October 24 because of threats to his safety. Ford has been an outspoken critic of the Assad government and his support for protesters seeking an end to 41 years of Assad family rule.
The United States has said it hopes Ford will be able to return to Damascus by the November 24 U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.
Reporting by Andrew Quinn, Arshad Mohammed and Matt Spetalnick; editing by Cynthia Osterman