Obama to send ambassador to Syria

In one of the boldest signs of his administration's faith in diplomacy, President Obama will send an ambassador to Syria. The U.S. has not had an official representative stationed in Syria for four years.
"It's a reflection of Syria being a pivotal country in terms of achieving a comprehensive peace in the region," one senior official said. "There is a lot of work to do in the region for which Syria can play a role. For that, it helps to have a fully staffed embassy."

The State Department has twice dispatched Jeffrey D. Feltman, the assistant secretary for the Near East, and Daniel Shapiro, a National Security Council official, to Damascus for exploratory meetings.

Two weeks ago, the administration's special envoy for the Middle East, George J. Mitchell, met with Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, for what Mr. Mitchell later said were "serious and productive discussions."

Many conservatives are aghast at the move, which they consider a reward for bad behavior.

John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement this afternoon praising the move, calling it a sign of Obama's "commitment to a deeper engagement with the Middle East."

Kerry's full statement:
"President Obama has made a smart strategic decision to return an American ambassador to Damascus," said Kerry. "While there remain a number of serious disagreements between the United States and Syria, vigorous diplomatic efforts offer the best way forward and we have much to gain strategically by having this diplomatic channel formally open. Syria can play an important role in moving the region towards peace, and historically Syria has been a vital swing state in a troubled region. Strenuous diplomacy will be required to advance our interests, and the ultimate challenge--moving Syria away from its marriage of convenience with Iran--will certainly not happen overnight. But if the past eight years taught us anything, it is that we gained no leverage by trying to ignore Syria and instead ended up isolating the United States. I fully support the President's commitment to a deeper engagement with the Middle East and believe that we are starting to see the fruits of these efforts."