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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2011

'BLOODTHIRSTY' SYRIA

The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is calling on President Obama to protest Syria's "bloodthirsty" regime by refusing to send U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford back to Damascus.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen this week called on Mr. Obama to follow the example set by Italy, which withdrew Ambassador Achille Amerio on Tuesday after Syrian President Bashar Assad unleashed his latest murderous assault on peaceful demonstrators.

Syrian human rights activists estimate the Syrian military has killed as many as 2,000 protesters since anti-government demonstrations erupted in March.

"Italy's decision to recall its ambassador from Damascus will help increase international isolation of the bloodthirsty Syrian regime," said Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican.

"Yet, the Obama administration not only refuses to recall the U.S. ambassador but is, once again, seeking his confirmation by the Senate."

Mr. Obama appointed Mr. Ford in December during a congressional recess after several Republican senators blocked his nomination to protest Syria's continued interference in Lebanon and its strong support for the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah, which the United States lists as a terrorist organization.

Mr. Obama resubmitted Mr. Ford's nomination to the Senate because the recess appointment expires at the end of the year. Mr. Ford was in Washington this week for another confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Obama met with Mr. Ford on Monday and praised him for his "extraordinary service to the American people at a very challenging time in Syria."

State Department spokesman Mark Toner this week said Mr. Ford is expected to return to Damascus after his consultations in Washington.

The House has no role in the confirmation process, but Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen retains a powerful voice in U.S. foreign policy in general.

In her remarks this week, she criticized the White House for sending "mixed signals" to the Assad regime.

While Mr. Obama has declined to call for Mr. Assad to resign, he strongly criticized the Syrian dictator after security forces killed 70 protesters Sunday.

Mr. Obama promised to "increase pressure" on the Syrian government, which is already under a series of U.S. sanctions.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, however, said Mr. Obama "wasted two critical years" in a "failed course of reckless engagement" with Mr. Assad. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in March referred to Mr. Assad as a "reformer."

The "presence of any U.S. ambassador in Damascus has the net effect of legitimizing a regime that poses a serious threat to its own people and to U.S. national security, our interests and our allies," Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said.

Former President George W. Bush withdrew Ambassador Margaret Scobey in 2005 to protest suspected Syrian ties to the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

PALESTINIAN 'ILLUSION'

The new U.S. ambassador to Israel warned Palestinian officials that nothing will change, even if they do get the United Nations to declare a nation of Palestine.

Ambassador Daniel Shapiro said the "Palestinians' bid for U.N. recognition will not change reality and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be solved via negotiations," Israel Radio reported, after interviewing the new envoy Tuesday.

Israeli President Shimon Peres met with Mr. Shapiro on Wednesday to receive his diplomatic credentials and took the occasion to praise President Obama as a "friend of the Jewish people and the state of Israel."

Mr. Obama is deeply unpopular in Israel, where most Israelis believe he has a pro-Palestinian bias.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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