The United States will return an American ambassador to Syria after a hiatus of 5 years. President Barack Obama has nominated veteran diplomat Robert Ford for the post.
The previous U.S. ambassador was recalled in 2005 after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a bombing; it was widely suspected the Syrian government was involved in the attack.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States believes there is a need to have a full time representative in Syria:
"To have the kind of discussion and dialogue with Syria that we need, to encourage them where we think they're taking steps that are positive, and also to continue very direct dialogue to express to Syria our concerns about its relationships with various elements in the region as well. Syria has, in the past, been interested in engagement with a variety of countries. We clearly want to see comprehensive peace and that would involve progress on the Syria-Israeli track as well as the other tracks."
The announcement about the return of a U.S. ambassador to Damascus follows a series of recent steps the U.S. has taken to reach out to Syria, including visits by high level American officials and the lifting of an advisory, warning American travelers about security in Syria.
But Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the United States has a variety of concerns involving Syria, about which the U.S. has been very clear:
"We have laid out for the Syrians the need for greater cooperation with respect to Iraq; the end to interference in Lebanon and the transport and provision of weapons to Hezbollah; a resumption of the Israeli-Syrian track on the peace process. ... and generally to move away from the relationship with Iran, which is so deeply troubling to the region as well as to the United States."
"We are going to resume ambassadorial level representation," said Secretary Clinton, "but these issues have to be addressed."