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President Barack Obama took a major step toward improving strained ties with Syria on Tuesday, announcing his intention to reappoint a U.S. ambassador to Damascus after a five-year absence.

The White House said Obama had nominated career diplomat Robert Ford to the post. The nomination must still be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

The United States withdrew its ambassador from Damascus in 2005 after the assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Syria’s foes in Lebanon accused Damascus of involvement, a charge Syria denied.

Ford’s name was mentioned by the media a while back but the White refused to confirm or deny the name of its nominee. Reuters

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