U.S. names Ford as its ambassador to Syria

This is the full text of a Statement by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns, that Forward Magazine, and other media oulets in Syria, received a few days ago.

February 17, 2010

Good afternoon.  I am pleased to be back in Damascus.  I am here to convey President Obama’s continuing interest in building better relations with Syria based upon mutual interest and mutual respect.  Syria plays an important role in the Middle East and this is a moment in which both Syria and the United States, despite our differences, have a stake in exploring ways in which we might cooperate.

 I had quite productive and extensive discussions with President Assad.  We talked candidly about areas in which we disagree, but also identified areas of common ground on which we can build.  The White House announced yesterday that Robert Ford will be the next American ambassador to Syria if he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  That is a clear sign – after five years without an American ambassador in Damascus – of America’s readiness to improve relations and to cooperate in the pursuit of a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace between Arabs and Israelis with progress on all tracks of the peace process, and in the pursuit of regional peace and stability.

To deepen our dialogue as we move forward, Ambassador Dan Benjamin, the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, will remain here for another day of meetings.  I have no illusions about the challenges on the road ahead, but my meeting with President Assad leaves me hopeful that we can make progress together in the interest of both of our countries. 

 Thank you very much.

William Burns

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Forward Magazine leaks the name of the probable US Ambassador to Damascus!

Ambassador Walles or Khury to Damascus?

As the year comes to an end, two new names are floating in the air — leaked to us at Forward Magazine by our sources in Damascus and Washington, on who the new US ambassador to Syria will be.

This comes after the State Department reportedly sent its recommendation to the White House for approval. One is Jacob Walles, the former US consul general in Jerusalem, and Nabil Khury, a veteran of the Foreign Service, of Lebanese origins, who rose to fame in the Arab world for serving as liaison officer between the US and Arab media during the Iraq war in 2003.

Foreign diplomats stationed in Damascus insist that no names are on the table on who the new US ambassador will be, and journalists in Washington DC echo a similar line: “No Names!” What everybody is sure of, however, is that an ambassador will be named—soon—to Syria, given that US President Barack Obama decided to name one last June, to fill a post that has been vacant since 2005. The only reason for delay, sources confirm, is pure bureaucratic hassle of the Department of State.

Previously, two names had surfaced in the media, being Fredric Hof, a State Department veteran, and Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel in 2001-2005. Forward Magazine contacted Hof earlier in 2009 and he said, “To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of my impending appointment are greatly exaggerated. Indeed, they are false. I have maintained a lifelong habit of not accepting jobs I’ve not been offered, and this one will be no exception.”

Will these names prove to be another hoax? Our sources confirm otherwise… although if Nabil Khury is chosen by President Obama, he would be the second Khury ambassador to Syria, after Lebanon named Michel Khury to Syria earlier in 2009. In fact the list of Khurys would now be a long one: Michel Khury, Syrian novelist Colette Khury, and now, US “ambassador” Nabil Khury?

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