The Obama administration is preparing to evacuate American personnel and close the U.S. embassy in Damascus, Syria, by the end of this month unless the embattled government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad provides additional security for the facility, senior administration officials said.
Officials said they have not reached a final decision and are engaged in talks with the Assad government, but there so far have been no tangible results in providing more protection for the embassy.
“We have serious concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Damascus, including the recent spate of car bombs, and about the safety and security of embassy personnel,” a State Department release Friday evening said. “We have requested that the government of Syria take additional security measures to protect our embassy, and the Syrian government is considering that request. We have also advised the Syrian government that unless concrete steps are taken in the coming days we may have no choice but to close the mission.”
A drawdown of the staff at the embassy, which is located on a busy street in Damascus, began last week after three unexplained car bombings in recent weeks jarred the previously calm capital and left as many as 80 people dead.
Government claims that al-Qaeda was responsible for the recent attacks were widely scorned by activists who accused the government itself of responsibility. Although the administration has not ruled out Syrian government involvement in the attacks, U.S. officials said signs point to Syrian and Iraqi militants that have been affiliated with al-Qaeda.
“It smells like a terrorist attack and looks like a terrorist attack, but none of us knows for sure,” said a senior Obama administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in discussing the sensitive situation.