Did someone at the State Department miss the memo about the Syrian civil strife and that President Barack Obama has said he wants President Bashar Assad to step down? Why then was a senior Assad emissary given a visa to represent the repressive regime in Washington?
According to various media reports, the mix-up was noticed only after the diplomat boarded an airplane to DC. Only then was the visa revoked, blocking the diplomat, Ali Daghman, from entering the country.
A U.S. official chalked it up to a “bureaucratic mistake” according to the Wall Street Journal, which adds that Syrian opposition activists believe he obtained the visa at a U.S. embassy in another country.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Daghman landed Tuesday morning at Dulles International Airport. When congressional staffers and Syrian opposition groups learned that he had been granted a visa, they were outraged and warned that the U.S. was sending a signal to Assad that it wants to engage with his regime.
The story was first reported by Josh Rogin of the Daily Beast on Tuesday. Rogin wrote that the visa was issued several weeks ago and that lawmakers and Syrian opposition figures view this as “the latest debacle in the Obama administration’s handling of the Syria crisis.”
State Department Spokeswoman Jan Psaki on Wednesday confirmed that his visa was revoked, attributing the decision to “the Syrian regime’s continuing assault on its own people.”
The Daily Beast reported:
Sources told The Daily Beast that Daghman’s visa was not revoked until after Daghman had already departed for D.C. and after Congressional offices and Syria opposition groups protested to the State Department, urging them not to let a regime loyalist diplomat into the country. The State Department was also considering approving the visas for two more diplomats being sent to Washington by the regime, but those visa applications have not been granted or denied and sit in bureaucratic limbo, these sources said.
Once at Dulles, Daghman sat in the custody of Customs and Border Patrol awaiting deportation back to Syria, according to two sources who spoke to the Daily Beast.
Rogin spoke to a senior Senate Republican staffer who said, “This is a prime example of our dysfunctional Syria policy.”
“We’re supposedly arming the opposition to overthrow Assad yet we are granting visas to regime loyalists to come to Washington? This makes the U.S. look at best incompetent and at worst incoherent,” the unidentified staffer added.
Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian American Task Force, an independent group allied with the Syrian opposition told the Daily Beast, “Regardless of the reason why they gave the new diplomat a visa, it sends a message to Assad that the U.S. is not serious when they say the Assad regime is no longer legitimate.”
The Syrian Embassy in Washington is currently run by four remaining diplomats whose loyalties are unknown, according to the Daily Beast. It reports that the Embassy “has been a source of controversy” ever since the civil strife began in 2011.
Ambassador Imad Moustapha fled secretly to Beijing last year after the FBI began investigating the embassy’s role in spying on Syrian Americans in order to intimidate their relatives in Syria.
With no ambassador holding down the fort, officials tell the Wall Street Journal they believe Daghman was expected to fill a senior position, possibly as charge d’affairs, the number two official at the embassy.
The U.S. has shut its embassy in Damascus.
The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection would not comment and that the Syrian Embassy could not be reached.