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Panel told of U.S. 'dilemma' over Syria protests and violence

December 14, 2011 |  4:12 pm

REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- A senior State Department official acknowledged to Congress on Wednesday that the administration faces a “dilemma” in urging the Syrian opposition to forswear violence at a time when the regime of Bashar Assad has killed, by U.N. estimates, more than 4,000 people.

Frederic Hof  told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that the administration continues to believe that resistance by anti-government demonstrators plays into the regime’s hands because it can easily suppress an armed insurgency with its superior force. But he said that he would not urge the demonstrators not to defend themselves.

“I’m not about to tell people trying to defend their houses and their families not to do it,” said Hof, who is with the office of the U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace. “It is a real dilemma we face here, and there are no easy answers to this.”

He said the administration continues to hope that economic pressure and diplomatic isolation will hasten the fall of the regime, which he called “the equivalent of a dead man walking.”

Asked about immediate steps to protect the demonstrators, he said the administration is hoping that the Syrian government will yield to Arab League pressure to allow foreign monitors into the country. With outside eyes on the violence, the regime might be reluctant to shoot down demonstrators, he said.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), chairman of the Middle East subcommittee, disagreed, saying that the United States need to “stand with” the demonstrators at a time when the regime “has declared war on the Syrian people.”

“This policy of encouraging nonviolence in the face of the brutal tactics of the Assad regime grows more untenable by the day,” he said.


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--Paul Richter