WASHINGTON - A senior State Department official says the Syrian government has been told it must immediately suspend its diplomatic and consular missions in the United States.
The order Tuesday essentially shutters the Syrian embassy in Washington and its honorary consulates in Troy, Michigan, and Houston, Texas, and forces all personnel who are not legal U.S. residents to leave the country.
It comes three years since the start of the bloody civil war in Syria that has killed more than 140,000 people.
U.S. official tells CBS News that the U.S. has given notice to the Syrian diplomats in the U.S. that they have around 10 days to get their affairs in order and to depart the United States. This decision applies to a "handful" of Syrian diplomats in the U.S. but does not apply to the Syrian mission at the United Nations where Ambassador Jaafari remains in office. Staff has until April 30th to shutter the various Syrian diplomatic missions.
U.S. special envoy to Syria Daniel Rubenstein said the order responds to a decision by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad to suspend its own consular services.
However, Rubenstein said the U.S. wants to continue diplomatic relations with Syria and maintain a relationship if Assad steps down from power.