Religious minorities fear Syrian Islamists

U.S. envoy looks beyond Assad

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“I don’t think they’re vehemently anti-American, but neither are they rushing to give us kisses.”

President Obama appointed Mr. Ford to a temporary, one-year term as ambassador during a congressional recess in December after foreign-policy hawks objected to sending a U.S. ambassador back to Syria.

As president, George W. Bush withdrew the U.S. ambassador in 2005 to protest suspected Syrian involvement in the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister.

Now, however, several senators said that Mr. Ford, a career diplomat, had won their admiration because of his public defiance of Mr. Assad and his bloody crackdown on unarmed protesters.

Mr. Ford has visited demonstrators in flash-point cities, attended funerals of activists and publicly denounced the regime for killing an estimated 2,700 civilians.

“I really changed my mind on this,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“He has done some things that are just really impressive. He’s gone to places where the protesters are. He’s been roughed up a few times. I had the impression that he wouldn’t be quite strong enough, and I’ve been proven wrong.”

Mr. Ford’s nomination cleared the committee by a voice vote this month, but a confirmation vote in the full Senate could be blocked by one of his remaining skeptics.

“I’ve talked to some of our senators who have concerns about him, but I do think that the situation has changed because the [U.S.] policy has changed,” said Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who also previously opposed sending an ambassador to Syria, said he, too, was “cautiously optimistic” that Mr. Ford would get Senate confirmation.

“I would say now, because he has become such a symbol of American support for the Syrian people, that it would actually be a defeat for the cause of freedom in Syria — and almost a victory for Assad — if we don’t confirm Robert Ford,” Mr. Lieberman said.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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