More U.S. embassy personnel ordered to leave Syria

Dozens of diplomatic personnel posted to the U.S. Embassy in Syria will return to the United States this week, the Financial Times reported today, citing State Department officials.

The move comes amid growing U.S. and western condemnation of the Bashar al-Assad regime's brutal crackdown on anti-government unrest. The United Nations Security Council is expected to issue a press statement this afternoon condemning the violence, which is estimated to have killed more than 1,600 people since March.

While U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford "and other essential staff will remain in Damascus, dozens of other staff will return home this week," the Financial Times reported. State Department officials cited a "deteriorating security situation" for the decision.

Ford, testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his nomination yesterday, said he has been instructed by President Barack Obama to work to isolate Assad.

"The President on July 31 laid out my instructions: to stand with the Syrian people, increase our pressure on the Syrian regime, and work with other countries to isolate the Assad government," Ford said in his prepared testimony.

"It is time for us to start thinking about the day after Assad," he said. "Syria's 23 million citizens already have."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with U.S.-based Syrian opposition members yesterday, in another poke in the eye to Assad.

The U.S. administration is also preparing possible energy sanctions to impose on Syria's oil exports and finance mechanisms.

"The United States is working to move forward with additional targeted sanctions under existing authorities," Clinton said in a press statement today. "We are exploring broader sanctions that will isolate the Assad regime politically and deny it revenue with which to sustain its brutality."