After a hiatus of nearly six years, the United States is sending an ambassador to Syria. Robert Ford, a career diplomat with extensive experience in the Middle East, was appointed by President Barack Obama and will be at his post in Damascus by the end of January.
In 2005, the U.S. ambassador to Syria was recalled after the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, amid suspicions of involvement in his murder by the Syrian government and by Hezbollah, the Syrian and Iranian-backed terrorist group based in Lebanon. A United Nations tribunal investigating the car bombing which took Mr. Hariri's life is said to be near to announcing indictments in the case.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that the United States has "significant interests in Damascus and across the Middle East" and that "[b]eing without an ambassador serves no purpose other than to disadvantage the United States":
"A high-level representative in Damascus will make it possible to deliver strong, consistent messages to the Syrian Government and further U.S. interests and security. Putting an ambassador in Damascus should not be viewed as a reward to the Syrian government. It improves our ability to deliver firm messages to the Syrian Government and to articulate clearly our concerns and priorities to Syria."
The United States recognizes the importance of the role Syria can play in fostering peace and stability in the Middle East on a range of issues: the Israeli Palestinian conflict; Iraq's porous borders; and Lebanon's future; but it is also acutely aware of the destructive role it has played in the past in the form of supporting terrorist groups, undermining Lebanese sovereignty, and not complying with its international obligations . "We obviously want to see Syria play a constructive role," said State Department spokesman Crowley. "It has at times. We have great concerns about activities that Syria has engaged in the context of its ongoing support for Hezbollah. That is why we have chosen to place our ambassador in Damascus at this time."