WASHINGTON – Republican senators demanded that the Obama administration cancel the appointment of a new US ambassador to Syria.
In a letter addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the weekend, six senators asked for an answer before the nomination of career diplomat Robert Ford is sent to the floor for the consideration of the Senate.
If confirmed by the Senate, Ford would represent the United States' interests as it moves toward restored diplomatic relations with a nation that borders both Iraq and Israel. The democrats control the Senate, so the appointment is likely to pass.
The United States withdrew its ambassador from Damascus in 2005 after Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister, was assassinated in Beirut. Lebanese critics contended that Syria was involved in the killing, an accusation that Syria denied.
The Obama administration is not pleased with Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, but hopes improved relations would curb the infiltration of terrorists into Iraq from Syria. The US hopes the move would help stabilize Iraq and allow for the withdrawal of American troops next year.
Senators Jon Kyl (AZ), Pat Roberts (KS), Christopher Bond (MO), Tom Coburn (OK), John Barrasso (WY) and Mike Johanns (NE) said in the letter, "Engagement of hostile regimes in pursuit of US interests in not necessarily bad policy, if it is part of a realistic strategy with measurable goals. But engagement for engagement's sake is not productive. However well-justified the engagement is, the US pays a price for lending even a modicum of international legitimacy to a regime like Syria's."
The letter, which also mentions Syria's poor human rights record, states "We believe the Syrian government would like to be fully part of the legitimate international community without significantly changing these or other security policies."
The senators further wrote Clinton that the appointment of an ambassador to Damascus "must be aimed at achieving tangible Syrian concessions in response," adding, "Does the recent trilateral meeting among Syrian President Assad, the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad less than two weeks after you announced the nomination of Ambassador Ford give you reason to doubt the wisdom of this step at this time?"
The Obama Administration has been urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resume peace talks with Syria as part of the efforts to sever Damascus' ties with Iran and encourage it to stop supporting Hezbollah and the Palestinian terror groups.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak is in favor of negotiating with Syria.
Reuters and AP contributed to the report