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US denies closing Syria mission breaks international law

The closed Syrian embassy is pictured in Washington, DC on March 18, 2014
The closed Syrian embassy is pictured in Washington, DC on March 18, 2014

The United States Wednesday hit back at Syrian accusations that it was flouting international law by closing down Damascus's embassy in Washington.

The State Department also denied Russian allegations that by shuttering the mission in Washington's upscale embassy district it was abandoning its role as co-sponsor of the Syrian peace talks.

"We are abiding by not only the law but every aspect of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The United States on Tuesday said it was ordering Syria to suspend the operations of its embassy in the US capital and two honorary consulates in Michigan and Texas, after the Syrian mission said it would halt all its consular operations.

The Syrian ambassador left Washington in December 2011, and Psaki Wednesday revised the figures for how many Syrian staff were left saying it was over a dozen. They have been given until March 31 to leave the United States with their families.

The US has called on Syria to find a third-party country to take over responsibility for protecting and maintaining the embassy buildings.

Otherwise, "the State Department will assume responsibility for ensuring the protection and preservation of the premises of the Syrian mission, together with its property and archives, if such arrangements have not been finalized or approved by the department, as suggested by March 31," Psaki added.

The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad has denounced the move as a "clear violation" of the Vienna Convention and said the decision to close the embassy was "arbitrary."

Moscow also accused Washington "of playing into the hands of the hard-core Syrian opposition" and showed the US was prioritizing regime change.

But Psaki said the US administration remained "committed to and focused on seeing a political solution" even though the so-called Geneva peace talks have been stalled since last month.

"We remain an active and committed partner in that process," she said, but repeated Washington's insistence that Assad has lost all legitimacy to lead the country.