Obama to send ambassador to Syria, ending four-year hiatus

Damascus sees the move as a concrete indication that Obama is serious about improving ties. The US hopes to use Syrian leverage against Iran and Hezbollah.

By , Correspondent

Reports that Washington has decided to reappoint an ambassador to Syria have been welcomed in Damascus. After a four-year diplomatic freeze, analysts here see the development as a sign that President Obama intends to fulfil his pledge to mend relations between the two countries.

“This shows that the administration is becoming more serious about the improvement in relations,” says Thabet Salem, a Syrian political analyst.

The step comes on the back of months of Syrian frustration at the slow pace of US-Syrian reengagement. Damascus had expected a more rapid improvement in ties following Obama’s move to the White House in January.

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But in May, economic sanctions on the country were renewed, a step that stung local officials expecting a softening of ties.

Why the US broke off ties
Syria has been without a US ambassador since 2005 when President Bush withdrew the American representative accusing Syria of supporting terrorism and meddling in Iraq and Lebanon.

Movement has gathered pace in June, however.

Mr. Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, paid the highest-level official American visit to the country in four years. During his visit he acknowledged Syria’s crucial regional influence. According to Mr. Salem, Syrian officials asked Mr. Mitchell during his visit for “a genuine sign” that the US was serious about reengagement.

Ask, and you shall receive
Now, it seems, this request has been answered and a new ambassador is on the way, giving new optimism to Syrian hopes for a more friendly US administration.

The move is likely to facilitate dialogue between the two countries and help Obama achieve his regional goals.

The US administration wants Syria to use its influence to moderate Iran, as well as militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas. Additionally, Syria says it can help ensure a peaceful US withdrawal from Iraq.

“It’s in our interests to have an ambassador in Syria,” a senior administration official told CNN. "We’ve been having more and more discussions, and we need to have someone there to engage.”

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