US President Barack Obama demanded Thursday for the first time that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "step aside" and imposed tough sanctions on Damascus including an asset freeze and ban on American investments in Syria.
"We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside," Obama said.
But Obama also emphasized that Washington "cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria" and vowed to heed Syrians' "strong desire that there not be foreign intervention in their movement." "It is time for the Syrian people to determine their own destiny, and we will continue to stand firmly on their side," Obama said in a statement quickly echoed by the European Union.
"The EU notes the complete loss of Bashar al-Assad's legitimacy in the eyes of the Syrian people and the necessity for him to step aside," foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
According to AFP, the US leader imposed a wave of new economic sanctions on Syria that he said would "deepen the financial isolation of the Assad regime," already targeted for being a US-designated state sponsor of terrorism. "We expect today's actions to be amplified by others," said the US president.