(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States closed the Syrian Embassy in Washington and is kicking out Syrian diplomats because the Assad regime has no legitimacy.
“We’ve all see in the pictures of the emaciated corpses. You can’t believe you’re in 2014, ” he said. “And so we just felt the idea that this embassy is sitting here with representation that we could take seriously is an insult, and we closed it. It’s that simple.”
An outraged Kerry rattled off grim statistics to a group of university students participating in a town hall meeting at the State Department.
Outlining Assad’s illegitimacy, Kerry said, “140,000 people killed, more than 10,000 children, millions of refugees, millions of internally displaced people, people attacked by their own government with gas, people tortured and killed by the thousands…some kind of chemical being dropped on kids in schools indiscriminately, indiscriminately attacking civilians by doing an old-fashioned siege and starving them in their villages for more than a year or so.”
Kerry said the Assad regime will never be legitimate.
“The people of that country who’ve been driven out, whose kids, parents, brothers, sisters, grandfathers have been killed, are never going to look to him for leadership,” he said.
Earlier, the State Department said the decision to close the embassy came after the Syrians announced last week that it would no longer be providing consular services to Syrian citizens living in the United States or Americans seeking a visa to the country.
That’s when the Washington embassy was ordered closed in addition to consulates in Michigan and Texas.
“Following the announcement that the Syrian Embassy has suspended its provision of consular services, and in consideration of the atrocities the Assad regime has committed against the Syrian people, we have determined it is unacceptable for individuals appointed by that regime to conduct diplomatic or consular operations in the United States,” newly-appointed Special Advisor for Syria Daniel Rubinstein announced in a statement.
Syrian diplomats and their families have been given until March 31 to pack up and leave. Administrative staff, who are primarily local, have been given until April 30 to close the mission.
Since the Syrian conflict began three years ago there has been limited staff at the Syrian embassy. The mission has no ambassador, and strict limitations have been placed on where the remaining diplomats could travel.
The order affects less than a dozen Syrian staff members, said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
The Syrian mission at the United Nations in New York City will remain open, part of the United States obligations to the U.N.
Psaki also said that the closures do not signify a break of all diplomatic ties to Syria, as the U.S. has done in North Korea, Cuba and Iran.
“We still have hope for our future relations with the people of Syria,” said Psaki. “It’s just the step of closing the embassy.”
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
John Newsome and Anne Woolsey, CNN