The head the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem has been tapped by Secretary of State John Kerry to be the top-ranking American diplomat to Syria.
Michael Ratney has “impressed” Kerry with “his keen intellect, deep knowledge of the region, and policy judgment,” the secretary said in a statement Monday announcing the selection.
The pick comes a month after President Obama nominated Ratney’s predecessor, Daniel Rubinstein, to become the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, and as the bloody Syrian civil war shows little signs of slowing.
The violence in Syria has now entered its fifth year, claiming more than 200,000 lives. More than 11 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes to escape the violence, 4 million of whom are now living as refugees in neighboring countries including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
The power vacuum created by the long-running crisis has allowed for the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) — which has a de facto capital in the Syrian town of Raqqa — and other extremist groups.
“Michael’s leadership and counsel will be critical as we confront the significant challenges posed by more than four years of suffering, bloodshed, and destruction in Syria,” Kerry said in a statement Monday.
“We remain committed to reaching a negotiated political transition away from [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad, working to counter the shared threat of terrorism, supporting the moderate opposition, and addressing the humanitarian disaster and its impact on Syria’s neighbors.”
Before moving to Jerusalem in 2012, Ratney was a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department in Washington, helping to engage foreign media. He also spent time as the spokesman for the State Department’s Near Eastern affairs bureau, and previously worked at embassies in Qatar, Mexico and Iraq.
He is a fluent Arab speaker and will soon travel to begin talks with Syrians and others involved in the crisis, Kerry said.