Embassy in Damascus may have staff vacated

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

The government may scale down the size of its diplomatic mission in Syria amid increasing violence between President Bashar Assad’s regime and rebel groups, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Thursday.

“We are paying attention to the security situation in the capital, Damascus, and are currently considering various measures, including the possibility of cutting back on the number of the Japanese Embassy staff,” Fujimura said.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 11 staff members, including Ambassador Toshiro Suzuki, at the embassy in Damascus, one fewer than usual.

According to a Foreign Ministry official in the Middle Eastern and African Affairs Bureau, the government is not considering closing the embassy but Suzuki might be recalled at some point.

“We are not specifically considering (recalling the ambassador) at the moment but we will think about it in the whole scheme of things,” the official said.

Earlier this week, the U.S. closed its embassy and evacuated all of its diplomats, while other European countries, including Britain, France and Italy, have decided to withdraw their ambassadors. The ministry official explained that these decisions were the result of direct targeting by Syrian protesters of Western embassies.

“The difference between Japan and Western countries is that they recognize they are in actual danger, whereas Japan has not particularly been a target,” the official said.

The situation in Syria has been deteriorating on a daily basis as Assad and his government continue to suppress antigovernment protesters.

A U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at ending the bloodshed was vetoed by Russia and China on Feb. 5.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba issued a statement Sunday, calling the violence in Syria an “inhumane and undemocratic situation.”