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Americas

Obama sidesteps Congress to appoint new Syria ambassador

Text by Thibault Worth

Latest update : 2011-01-03

US President Barack Obama bypassed Congress and appointed the country’s first ambassador to Syria in six years Wednesday, advancing his policy of engagement with Damascus at a time of growing tension in neighbouring Lebanon.

 

US President Barack Obama appointed Robert Stephen Ford (pictured above) as the first US ambassador to Syria in nearly six years on Wednesday.  Because this appointment comes during a congressional recess, Ford will not need immediate Senate confirmation.
 
The US withdrew its ambassador in Damascus after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in Feb. 2005, and later imposed economic sanctions on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Syria was widely accused of having masterminded the killing, but it has strenuously denied involvement.
 
The UN tribunal, in charge of the case, is expected to hand down verdicts against several members of the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah, a possibility that has stoked fears of renewed sectarian strife in Lebanon.
 
The Obama Administration hopes better ties with Damascus will help to diffuse tensions
Robert Ford resume

-Deputy Chief of Mission in Bahrain (2001 – 2004)

-Political Counselor to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad (2004 – 2006)

-US Ambassador to Algeria (2006 – 2008)

-Ford has been stationed in İzmir, Cairo, Algiers, and Yaoundé and speaks fluent Arabic

between Syria and Lebanon. Recently, US officials accused Damascus of providing missiles to Hezbollah, underscoring the complexity of negotiations. Syria’s help is also considered critical for any progress in the Arab-Israeli peace process.
 
“It is about time the US reestablishes a relationship with Syria,” Elie Masboungi, a journalist at the Lebanese French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour, told FRANCE 24. “All the major powers in the world are convinced that the problems in the Middle East cannot be solved without Syria.”
 
The Washington side of negotiations
 
A small group of Republican Senators have blocked Ford’s appointment this year, accusing the Obama administration of lacking a coherent policy towards Syria.
 
By appointing Ford during a congressional recess, Obama skirted the congressional logjam. But he may risk later political backlash. November's midterm elections reduced the Democrat’s Senate majority and will put them in the minority in the House come January 1.
 
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an influential Republican, criticised the White House appointment.
 
"Making underserved concessions to Syria tells the regime in Damascus that it can continue to pursue its dangerous agenda and not face any consequences from the US," she said in a statement.
 
Ros-Lehtinen will chair the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee when Congress reconvenes. Though she will not directly influence the Senate nomination process, her comments reflect Republican concerns.
 
Under US law, recess appointments must be approved by the Senate by the end of the next session of Congress, after which the position becomes vacant again.
 
The White House has been vexed by what it sees as unnecessary and unprecedented Republican-led delays in confirming Ford as well as other senior appointees. 
 
Obama first nominated Ford in February 2010.

 

Date created : 2010-12-30

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