The U.S. is considering closing its embassy in Damascus amid concerns about the security of the staff there, The Huffington Post has confirmed.
The Washington Post and Foreign Policy magazine first reported Friday afternoon that American officials have been in discussions with the regime of Bashar al-Assad regarding security arrangements around the U.S. embassy.
A U.S. official told the Post that the Obama administration will close the embassy and evacuate all personnel unless the Assad regime provides enhanced protection.
American officials recently scaled down the presence of U.S. diplomats at the embassy in Damascus.
The embassy came under attack in July by protesters thought to be affiliated with the government, and the U.S. ambassador was briefly recalled to the United States in October, amid growing diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
Nevertheless, State Department officials have repeatedly defended their decision to send an ambassador to Syria in the first place and to keep the embassy fully functioning amid the unfolding turmoil in the country. They have said that having a diplomatic presence there allows the U.S. to best express its political views to the regime, and to understand conditions on the ground.
The reports come as a highly controversial Arab League observer mission to Syria was said to be considering extending its mission by another month, despite complaints by Syrian protesters that the mission failed to quell violence or government attacks on demonstrations.
A U.S. official told Reuters that the administration has made no final decision yet. "We want something to happen sooner rather than later," the official said.
The U.N. estimates that at least 5,400 people have died in the Syrian regime's crackdown on an uprising that began last March.
UPDATE: 5:30 p.m. -- The State Department put out a statement confirming the reports late on Friday.
"While no decision has been made, we have serious concerns about the deteriorating security situation in Damascus, including the recent spate of car bombs, and about the safety and security of embassy personnel. We have requested that the government of Syria take additional security measures to protect our embassy, and the Syrian government is considering that request. We have also advised the Syrian government that unless concrete steps are taken in the coming days we may have no choice but to close the mission."
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