The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing next Tuesday on the appointment of Robert Ford as Washington’s ambassador to Damascus, according to Lebanon’s As Safir newspaper.
As Safir pointed out that the move would come amid a third visit to the Syrian capital by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and senior White House official Daniel Shapiro end of March.
The committee’s communications director, Frederick Jones, told As Safir that the Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman, John Kerry, “believes that it is important to have diplomatic representation in Syria.”
Eight Senators have written Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressing concern about returning a U.S. ambassador to Syria at this time.
“Engagement of hostile regimes in pursuit of U.S. interests is not necessarily bad policy, if it is part of a realistic strategy with measurable goals,” the Senators, including Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.), Pat Roberts (R-Kans.), Kit Bond (R-Missouri), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), John Barrasso (R.-Wyo.), Mike Johannes (R-Neb.) wrote in the letter, dated March 5.
“But engagement for engagement’s sake is counterproductive,” it continues. “We believe that the Syrian government would like to be fully part of the legitimate international community without significantly changing these or other security policies,” it continues, asking what measures the administration will use to determine if increased engagement with Damascus is producing results.
The U.S. withdrew its last ambassador to Damascus in 2005. Last month, Obama nominated veteran diplomat Robert S. Ford, most recently the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and a former Ambassador to Algeria, to be the next U.S. ambassador to Damascus.
The Senators asked Clinton to respond before sending Ford’s nomination to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.