U.S. appoints first ambassador to Syria since 2005 in sign of thawing tension

The White House on Tuesday nominated career diplomat Robert Ford as the United States’ first ambassador to Syria since 2005.

Ford must ultimately be confirmed by the Senate before he begins at his new post. Already, Syrian officials have signaled they approve of Ford’s appointment as the U.S.’s top diplomatic presence in Damascus.

{mosads}In a statement announcing Ford’s nomination late Tuesday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs described the White House’s prospective new ambassador as a seasoned Middle East diplomat.

“Ambassador Ford is a highly accomplished diplomat with many years of experience in the Middle East,” Gibbs said. “His appointment represents President Obama’s commitment to use engagement to advance U.S. interests by improving communication with the Syrian government and people.

“If confirmed by the Senate, Ambassador Ford will engage the Syrian government on how we can enhance relations, while addressing areas of ongoing concern,” Gibbs added.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration’s move to reopen its embassy in Damascus is to some degree a sign that relations between the United States and Syria are slowly improving.

The White House recalled its ambassador to the Middle Eastern state in 2005, following the Feb. 14 assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many believe Syria was behind that attack, though an investigation into the assassination has yielded few conclusive, actionable details.

Ultimately, a new U.S. ambassador in Syria could help the U.S. shore up more support for its regional interests and allies. However, it could also function as a check on Iran, which has courted Syria in recent years, as Damascus and Washington grew further apart.

It is unclear how much support Ford might receive in the Senate, as lawmakers may not share the White House’s interest in restoring diplomatic ties with a state many still associate with regional terrorism. But during the confirmation debate, Democrats are sure to tout Ford’s previous experience as sufficient reason for him to assume the job.

Currently, Ford is the deputy chief of mission in Baghdad, and he served as an ambassador to Algeria from 2006 to 2008, according to media reports.

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