- Muslim insurgents shoot then set on fire Buddhist teacher in Thailand
- Air Force cadets ‘revolt’ after officials remove biblical verse from whiteboard
- Rep. Lee: Paul Ryan out of touch with urban Americans
- House votes down resolution to force Issa to apologize
- Kremlin blocks opposition websites; Kasparov fears Putin plans ‘something drastic’
- Saving trees? EPA wastes $1.5 million storing unneeded pamphlets in warehouse
- Scott Brown Senate bid in New Hampshire may launch soon
- Jeffrey Corzine, son of ex-N.J. governor, dead at 31
- Australian surfing magazine sorry for calling indigenous surfer ‘apeish’
- Records: Man in Fla. theater shooting also was texting
First U.S. ambassador in 5 years arrives in Syria
Few expect immediate changes, but having career diplomat Robert Ford in Damascus offers Washington a better glimpse into Syria at a time of rising tensions — particularly in neighboring Lebanon, where the Western-backed government collapsed last week.
“Intelligence-sharing is the most promising overlap in U.S.-Syrian relations,” said Joshua Landis, an American professor and Syria expert. He noted that, like Washington, Syria’s secular regime is against al Qaeda and “takfiri” Islamists, referring to an ideology that urges Sunni Muslims to kill anyone they consider an infidel.
President Obama’s administration has argued that returning an ambassador to Damascus would help persuade Syria to change its policies regarding Lebanon, Israel and Iraq and end its support for extremist groups.
The government fell after months of tensions stemming from a U.N.-backed investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Many have blamed the killing on Syria and Hezbollah. President George W. Bush's administration withdrew a full-time ambassador from Syria in 2005 in part to protest Hariri’s assassination.
Both Syria and Hezbollah deny any links to the assassination, which galvanized opposition to Damascus in 2005 and sparked huge street demonstrations that helped end Syria’s 29-year military presence in Lebanon and paved the way for pro-Western parties — led by Saad Hariri, the slain man’s son — to head the government in subsequent elections.
The tribunal is expected to issue indictments soon, and many expect the Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah to be named. The indictments could rekindle violence in Lebanon, which has been plagued for decades by war and civil strife.
With Syria’s backing, Hezbollah has demanded Mr. Hariri break off Lebanon’s ties with the tribunal, but he has refused. The collapse of his Western-backed government on Wednesday was a clear sign of the strength of Hezbollah — along with its Syrian and Iranian patrons — and a setback for U.S. policy in the region.
The nomination stalled after Mr. Ford’s confirmation hearings, but Mr. Obama bypassed the Senate in December and directly appointed Mr. Ford and three other new U.S. ambassadors whose nominations had been stalled or blocked by lawmakers for months.
A number of senators objected because they believed sending an ambassador to Syria would reward it for bad behavior.
Syria has bounced back from years of international isolation and is wielding its influence in crises around the Middle East, shrugging off U.S. attempts to pull it away from its alliances with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.
Washington increasingly has expressed its frustration with Syria, which it says is stirring up tension through its support of Hezbollah. In October, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Syria’s behavior “has not met our hopes and expectations.”
Bilal al-Ghazzawi, 23-year-old working at an electronics shop, said he was doubtful relations between the two countries would change.
“Americans cannot be trusted,” he said. “Today they send an ambassador; tomorrow they might pull him out again.”
Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Albert Aji contributed to this story from Damascus, Syria.
TWT Video Picks
By Bob Dole
The industrious island has proved itself worthy of U.S. inclusion
- F-35 secrets now showing up in Chinas stealth fighter
- EXCLUSIVE: FBI blocked in corruption probe involving Sens. Reid, Lee
- USS Kidd sent to Indian Ocean after 'indication' of Malaysian jet crash
- College group's diversity event canceled after excluding white people
- Senators deluged by complaints void 2-year-old flood insurance plan before 10-day break
- Justice Department refuses info on hundreds of prosecutor misconduct cases
- Oil rig worker says he saw missing plane go down: report
- Warren Buffett's son to spend $23.7 million in effort to save South African rhinos
- U.S. pilot scares off Iranians with 'Top Gun'-worthy stunt: 'You really ought to go home'
- Bill Clinton poses for photo with Bunny Ranch prostitutes
Chaos as Manhattan building explodes
Pope Francis meets his 'mini-me'
Celebrity deaths in 2014
Winter storm hits states — again