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White House warning: Assad must end crackdown or face ‘additional steps’

JTA

December 21, 2011 | 10:54 am

A Syrian citizen holds a picture of President Bashar Assad during a protest in front of the Syrian embassy in Minsk on Dec. 17. Photo by REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

A Syrian citizen holds a picture of President Bashar Assad during a protest in front of the Syrian embassy in Minsk on Dec. 17. Photo by REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

The Obama administration warned that the international community will take “additional steps” to pressure Syria’s rulers to end their crackdown unless they agree to the full withdrawal of forces from residential areas.

The statement issued Wednesday by the White House, reiterating Obama administration calls for Bashar Assad to quit power, was the first to hint at possible military intervention.

“We urge Syria’s few remaining supporters in the international community to warn Damascus that if the Arab League initiative is once again not fully implemented, the international community will take additional steps to pressure the Assad regime to stop its crackdown,” the statement said.  “Bashar al-Assad should have no doubt that the world is watching, and neither the international community nor the Syrian people accept his legitimacy.”

The Arab League initiative calls for a full withdrawal from residential areas, the release of political prisoners, and unfettered access by monitors and media.

President Obama has led an international effort to cut off Syria from the world economy and tighten sanctions since the regime began targeting democracy protesters in the spring, but until now has resisted calls for military intervention.

U.S. officials have said that unlike Libya, where limited NATO intervention helped rebels oust the leadership, Syria poses a more difficult challenge because of the deeper entrenchment of its rulers in the military and because the opposition is not as cohesive.

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