ST. PETERSBURG — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., had a blunt message for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday as rebels in nearby Libya stormed through the capital, all but replacing a decades-long dictatorship: You're next.
"He's going to meet the same fate as has happened to the others that have been run out," Nelson said during a St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. "First in Tunisia. Then in Egypt. It's now happening in Libya and it's going to happen in Syria."
Nelson, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said it's hard to stop people once they've had a taste of freedom.
"The fact is that people are demanding things and once that freedom genie is out of the bottle, it is very hard to stuff it back in," he said. "And that's what you're seeing."
He said Assad had the misguided notion that he would be protected by Iran.
Nelson said that he's met with Assad three times in the past 11 years, most recently about five years ago.
"We got into it pretty hot and heavy," he said, adding that it's tough for a "brutal dictator" to listen to his people.
As he criticized Libya, Nelson lauded the leaders of Morocco and Jordan for being open to reforms.
"The leaders that have been smart, like King Abdullah of Jordan, like the King of Morocco, have understood this," he said. "They've gotten ahead of it and started the reforms in order to satisfy the demands of the people…"