Did the Obama administration call Syrian president a reformer?

GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan repeatedly castigated the Obama administration for calling Syrian President Bashar Assad a “reformer,” though his security forces have killed an estimated 30,000 people in his country’s civil war.

TRANSCRIPT: Read Biden, Ryan’s arguments

In fact, administration officials described Assad as a reformer at least a year before the armed uprising in Syria broke out in 2011. At the time of the statement, the administration hoped it might start peace negotiations between the Syrians and the Israelis. Some Israelis saw potential in the “Syria track” negotiations as well.

U.S. officials made numerous visits to Damascus, the Syrian capital, but the administration ultimately decided that Assad’s government concluded it had too much at risk, including its own safety, if it made the compromises needed to sign a peace deal with Israel.


U.S. hopes that Assad might play a role as a peacemaker, or as a reformer, evaporated when it became clear the negotiations were going nowhere. That was before the civil war began.