The Cable

U.S. considering shutting down its embassy in Syria

Amid growing concerns about security in Damascus, the Obama administration is considering closing the U.S. Embassy in Damascus unless the Syrian government can guarantee security in the area, The Cable has learned.

An administration official confirmed to The Cable Friday that U.S. officials have been in discussions with the Syrian regime in an effort to negotiate new security agreements for the streets surrounding the embassy, which have become more and more dangerous for U.S. personnel as the violence in Damascus has drawn closer to the central city. Those streets house several other foreign embassies as well, meaning that if the Syrian government does not meet requests for better security guarantees, several countries could be forced to roll up their diplomatic presence in Damascus, despite their preference to stay.

"We've had serious concerns about the fact that the mission is exposed, as have other embassies," the administration official told The Cable. "We've been in to see the Syrians to request extra security measures. They are deciding what they can do. If they can't meet our concerns, we're going to have to consider closing [the embassy]."

Over the past few months, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford has worked to keep the embassy open and functioning amid physical attacks on him and the embassy building, usually by groups of thugs who support the Syrian regime. Unlike newer embassy designs, the U.S. facility in Damascus sits right on the street, dangerously exposed.

"He's been working on this for a couple of weeks," the official said. The official declined to specify exactly what the security threats are or how long the Syrian government has to make up its mind.

The embassy staff remains the administration's best eyes and ears on what's going on inside Syria, U.S. officials argue, as they maintain links with both the government and the opposition.

Last week, the State Department announced that more U.S. diplomats would be leaving Damascus due to the deteriorating security situation there.

"Due to security concerns in Syria, in October 2011, the embassy was designated an unaccompanied post with restricted staffing. The Department has decided to further reduce the number of employees present in Damascus, and has ordered a number of employees to depart Syria as soon as possible," stated a Jan. 11 travel warning. "U.S. citizens should avoid all travel to Syria."

We'll bring you more as the situation develops...

AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

John McCain visits the Hanoi Hilton

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) visited the "Hanoi Hilton" prison today, where he was jailed and tortured for years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War.

"Touring the Hanoi Hilton this morning - it's been converted into a museum #Vietnam," McCain tweeted Friday from the trip through Southeast Asia he is on with Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).  "Also visited Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi - where I landed after being shot down in 1967 - & the monument to my capture."

Politico reported that McCain has visited the Hanoi Hilton several times: "A frequent visitor to the Hanoi Hilton, he was last there in 2009.... McCain first returned to the Hanoi Hilton in 1985 -- the 10th anniversary of the fall of Saigon -- with legendary broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite. He visited again in the early 1990s with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a fellow Vietnam veteran, to promote efforts to normalize relations with the communist country. McCain also made a trip there shortly after losing the GOP presidential primary race in 2000."

Speaking with the New York Times after his 2000 trip, McCain scoffed at the Vietnamese government's whitewashing of what went on at the prison and described the daily torture and propaganda he and other prisoners were forced to endure.

"'I still bear them ill will,'' he said of the prison guards, ''not because of what they did to me, but because of what they did to some of my friends -- including killing some of them.''

McCain also tweeted photographs of the delegation's meeting with the Vietnam's President Truong Tan Sang.

The delegation visited the Philippines earlier this week, where they met with President Benigno Aquino III, among others. Lieberman took the lead in tweeting during that leg of the trip.

"1st stop - Philippines. Dawn of a new era in our 60 yr alliance, which grows stronger based on shared history, interests, values, and future," Lieberman tweeted on Jan. 17.  "US must support Philippines military, esp maritime domain awareness and territorial defense."