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Obama taps first envoy to Syria in 5 years

Feb. 17, 2010 at 11:59 AM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama nominated veteran diplomat Robert Ford to be the U.S. envoy to Syria, ending a five-year ambassadorial absence from the country.

"Ambassador Ford is a highly accomplished diplomat with many years of experience in the Middle East," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday in a statement. "His appointment represents President Obama's commitment to use engagement to advance U.S. interests by improving communication with the Syrian government and people."

The United States pulled its ambassador to Syria in 2005 as a protest of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria was accused of being behind the bombing that killed the popular statesman and 22 other people.

Syria denied the charge, but a U.N. special tribunal found involvement by the Syrian government, CNN said. After the U.N. investigation, Syria pulled its troops from Lebanon. Syrian and Lebanese officials since have been trying to repair their relationship.

Ford's nomination must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

If confirmed, Ford "will engage the Syrian government on how we can enhance relations, while addressing areas of ongoing concern," Gibbs said.

Ford, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, is deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and was ambassador to Algeria.

Ford's nomination was revealed just ahead of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns' trip to the region, CNN said. His itinerary includes stops in Syria and Lebanon.

© 2010 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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