As anti-government protests in Syria showed no sign of abating, the US state department on Monday denied that it was seeking the regime's ouster.
"No, we are not working to undermine that government", said US state department spokesman Mark Toner in response to a front-page report in Monday's Washington Post newspaper about secret US financing of Syrian opposition groups, including a London-based satellite television channel that has called for overthrow of the Baathist regime headed by president Bashar al-Assad.
Assad "needs to address the legitimate aspirations of his people", Toner insisted, noting that Assad himself had spoken over the weekend about implementing "the need to lift the state of emergency as well as implement broader reforms, and certainly, we are watching closely now to see how those words translate into deed".
Indeed, in a bid to contain the rapidly spreading protests throughout Syria, Assad on Saturday swore in a new government headed by former agriculture minister Abdel Safar and pledged, among other measures, to repeal of the 48-year-old emergency law, "within a week at most".
In striking contrast to his previous public remarks, he also offered condolences and prayers for the "martyrs" - estimated by independent human rights groups at more than 200 - who were killed in anti-government demonstrations since the protests began last month.