U.S. to Return Ambassador to Syria After 4-Year Absence

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    By Scott Wilson
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, June 23, 2009; 10:28 PM

    President Obama has decided to return a U.S. ambassador to Syria after an absence of more than four years, marking a significant step toward engaging an influential Arab nation long at odds with the United States.

    The acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Jeffrey D. Feltman, informed Syria's ambassador to Washington, Imad Mustafa, tonight of Obama's intention, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision had yet to be made public.

    By returning a senior U.S. envoy to Damascus, the Syrian capital, the Obama administration is seeking to carve out a far larger role for the United States in the region as the president works to rehabilitate U.S. relations with the Islamic world and the Arab Middle East.

    The Bush administration withdrew its ambassador in February 2005 to protest the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Syrian intelligence officials are suspected of being behind the bombing in Beirut that killed him, a claim Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has long rejected.

    The loss of U.S. diplomatic leverage in the region -- because of opposition among many Arabs to the Iraq war and a perceived U.S. favoritism toward Israel -- has left a vacuum in recent years filled in large part by Iran. The decision to return the ambassador to Syria, senior administration officials said, represents the restoration of a sustained U.S. diplomatic presence in a secular Arab country central to many U.S. interests in the region.

    "It did not make any sense to us not to be able to speak with an authoritative voice in Damascus," the senior administration official said. "It was our assessment that total disengagement has not served our interests."

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...l?hpid=topnews
     

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