Big Challenges Facing New Syria Engagement

Obama picks the first U.S. Ambassador to Syria in years

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President Obama is appointing Robert Ford as U.S. Ambassador to Syria, a post that has been vacant for five years due to diplomatic tension. Ford travels to Congress today for his confirmation hearing, where he will be pressed on Obama's hopes for engagement with Syria and on the stakes of reopening ties to one of the most hostile nations in the region. If the tough questions posed by pundits are any indication, Ford could have a difficult day ahead of him.

  • Rocky U.S.-Syria Relations  The Associated Press' Barry Schweid gives the history. "Bush withdrew a full-time ambassador from Syria in 2005 following terrorism accusations and to protest the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, killed in a Beirut truck bombing that his supporters blamed on Syria. Syria denied involvement," he writes. Ford "said Syria has been a steadfast supporter of terror groups like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah for more than 20 years." He promised "straight talk" to Syria on these issues.
  • Ford's Tough Demands  Bloomberg's Peter Green reports, "Ford said Syria should shut down remaining foreign fighter networks feeding militants into Iraq and realize that Iraq has a sustainable, constitutional government that won’t be overthrown." Additionally, "Ford said he would tell Syria it must cooperate with international nuclear inspectors and that U.S. sanctions won’t be dropped unless Syria stops supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and arming it with rockets and other weapons used against Israel."
  • 'Drive a Wedge' Between Syria, Iran  The Agence France-Presse suggests the U.S. could break apart the infamous Iran-Syria-Hezbollah triangle that has pressured the region for years. How? In Iraq. As Iraqis grapple for control in a mixed Shia and Sunni state, Iran will press for Shia control while Syria will press for Sunni control. They note that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has attempted to drive that two allies apart and that Ford hinted that Iraq could be a point of conflict for Iran and Syria.
  • Syria The Key To MidEast Peace?  Fox News' Amy Kellogg observes, "Long isolated by Washington, shunned for its support of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, the Obama administration now appears to be courting Syria as a possible solution to the problems of the Middle East." Syria, she says, is used to negotiating between major powers and willing to realign within its best interests. "Probably the real common ground at this point, is the apparent goodwill on both sides to explore ways to rebuild the relationship and make it fruitful to both parties, and the region."
  • Syria Helping Out In Iraq  National Journal's David Gauvey Herbert points out, "On Iraq, Syria has been helpful on some fronts. It already hosts somewhere between 250,000 and 1 million Iraqi refugees. And it has cut down on the number of foreign fighters flowing across its border, from a high of 100 per month in mid-2007 to 10 per month today, Ford said." And a Syria-Iran split is possible. "The fact that Syria can accept a Middle East that features Israel and Ahmadinejad cannot creates an opening for the U.S."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.