European governments are discussing whether to expel Syrian ambassadors from their respective countries in response to an intensifying crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad on a revolt against his rule, a French official said on Tuesday.
France's ambassador to Damascus is returning to Paris on Tuesday after closing the embassy following President Nicolas Sarkozy's decision to cut its diplomatic presence in Syria.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Syria's ambassador to France had not been asked to leave yet, but talks were taking place to remove Syrian envoys from other European capitals.
We are discussing it with the Europeans. At this stage we're not there yet, he said, adding that the decision could be taken on an individual country basis.
Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said that in response to savage killings and human rights abuses the country would cease activities at its embassy in Damascus, but would not formally close the Spanish mission.
Madrid would maintain an active diplomatic presence through the EU's delegation in Syria to monitor the situation of Spaniards in the zone, maintain contacts with the opposition and send a political message that what is happening in Syria is not acceptable, Margallo said.
The United States, Britain, Switzerland and Canada have already closed their embassies in the Syrian capital as violence intensifies across the country.
It is no longer a regime, Valero said. It is a clan that is plunging itself deeper into a repressive policy that is leading the country to collapse.
After the EU meeting diplomats said the states had met to discuss a coordinated diplomatic response to Syria, with the aim of reducing diplomatic ties both in EU capitals and Damascus.
The EU's diplomatic arm, the European External Action Service (EEAS), offered to host member state diplomats at its facility in Damascus, and said it had room for five missions.
Spain said it was keen to take up the offer and would move one or two of its Syria-based diplomats there, said one of the diplomats in Brussels.
Madrid wants to keep its embassy open, run by local staff, so that Spanish diplomats still in Damascus would keep their diplomatic status, one diplomat said.
Other states said the EEAS idea was interesting, but that they wanted to keep their embassies open as long as the security situation allows.
The Syrian embassy in London said on Tuesday that its ambassador to Britain, Sami Khiyami, had left his role after his posting ended, and he was due to leave the country in a few days. However, the embassy said it would continue to operate and the Syrian government would appoint a replacement in due course.
The embassy will still be open and there is no indication (that) other diplomats will leave, it said in a statement.
(Reporting by John Irish in Paris; Martin Roberts and Nigel Davies in Madrid, Michael Holden in London and Sebastian Moffett in Brussels; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Ben Harding)