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Middle East
US names new envoy to Syria
Nomination of ambassador to Damascus ends five-year break in ties with Washington.
Last Modified: 17 Feb 2010 15:07 GMT
Burns, right, met Syrian president Bashar al-Assad shortly after the US nominated a new envoy [AFP]

The United States has moved to mend diplomatic ties with Syria, appointing a new ambassador to Damascus five years after withdrawing the last envoy.

The White House said on Wednesday that Barack Obama, the US president, had nominated Robert Ford, a career diplomat, to the post and that his nomination was awaiting confirmation by the US senate.

"His appointment represents President Obama's commitment to use engagement to advance US interests by improving communication with the Syrian government and people," a White House statement said.

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

The announcement came on the eve of a visit to Syria by William Burns, the under-secretary for political affairs at the US state department.

'Great hopes'

The US cut ties with Damascus in 2005 after the assassination in Beirut of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.

Syria was accused of involvement in the killing, a charge Damascus has denied.

"...the Syrians really welcomed the arrival of Mr Obama and they had great hopes that things will improve and they are really improving"

Thabet Salem,
political commentator

Thabet Salem, a Syrian journalist and political commentator, said relations between the two countries were set to improve and that Syrians had been optimistic since Obama took office.

"I think the relations are improving," he told Al Jazeera.

"The Syrians are very willing to open up to Washington and we have to take into consideration [the fact] that it was the previous administration [of Goerge Bush] that took this attitude towards Syria.

"So the Syrians really welcomed the arrival of Mr Obama and they had great hopes that things will improve and they are really improving." 

Relations between Washington and Damascus have improved since Obama took office 13 months ago.

But Washington renewed sanctions against Syria last May, accusing it of supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and destabilising neighbouring Iraq.
   
Syrian and Lebanese media have been reporting for weeks that Obama intended to appoint Ford.

Ford, who is currently deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Iraq, served as ambassador to Algeria from 2006 to 2008.

He was also deputy chief of mission in Bahrain between 2001 and 2004.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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