|Syria's President Bashar al-Assad|
© AFP/File SERGEI SUPINSKY
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States, after weeks of hesitation, has finally decided to call explicitly for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down amid broadening pressure to staunch the bloodshed.
The announcement, which US officials said is expected as early as Thursday, would come as President Barack Obama's administration presses for tougher international sanctions on a regime bent on crushing a pro-democracy movement.
"The United States is looking to explicitly call for Assad to step down. The timing of that is still in question," a US official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
"It's part of steps to increase the pressure given the ongoing brutality of the Assad regime."
Another US official, who also asked not to be named, said the call for Assad's resignation could come as early as Thursday.
The administration has steadily ratcheted up the pressure on Assad who has been deaf to growing international calls to stop a crackdown that human rights groups say has killed more than 2,000 people since mid-March.
On top of earlier targeted measures against Assad, regime officials and others, the United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria and the largest mobile phone operator, Syriatel.
The Obama administration has also welcomed a tougher Arab stand against Syria. In a highly symbolic move, Arab heavyweight Saudi Arabia as well as Kuwait and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors this week from Damascus.
US officials like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN envoy Susan Rice have said that Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule, but Washington has so far resisted issuing a direct call for him to leave power.
It has also resisted calls from Congress to withdraw Robert Ford, who in January became the first US ambassador to serve in Syria since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq al-Hariri, blamed on Damascus.
The administration has said Ford is well-placed to gather information and convey the US message to the Assad regime, but he would be unlikely to be able to stay on if Washington indeed calls for the Syrian strongman's ouster.
Steadily escalating US rhetoric against Assad, including a warning that he is now a source of regional instability, has fueled expectations that the Obama administration will soon formally call for him to go.
When they held their first meeting with Clinton on August 2, Syrian dissidents urged Obama to call on Assad to quit power and pressed for UN sanctions over the regime's crackdown on protests.
One of the dissidents said such a high-profile US call for Assad to step down would bring more protesters into Syria's streets.
US officials said they were also pressing allies with greater business interests in Syria to impose bilateral sanctions against the regime, including those targeting the key oil and gas sectors.
The United States and its Western allies have also stepped up demands for UN measures against Assad.
But UN Security Council battlelines were drawn when Russia's UN envoy said Wednesday that US calls for sanctions were not helping to end the crackdown by Syrian security forces.
UN Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco briefed the 15-member Security Council behind closed doors about events in Syria in the week since the council called for an "immediate" halt to the violence.
In a bid to keep Syria high on the Security Council agenda, Western nations pressed for a new report next week with briefings from the top UN human rights and humanitarian officials.
Envoys from Britain, France, Germany and Portugal said after the meeting that the Security Council would have to consider "further action" if events did not improve by the next report.
© AFP -- Published at Activist Post with license
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