- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2011


A U.S. ambassador returned to Syria on Sunday, ending nearly six years of a diplomatic protest from Washington over the 2005 assassination of a former Lebanese leader, whose assassination is widely blamed on Syria and its Hezbollah extremist allies in Lebanon.

Robert Ford, a career diplomat, made no comments to the press after he landed in the capital, Damascus. A U.S. Embassy spokesman told reporters there that Mr. Ford will schedule no official meetings until he presents his credentials to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Mr. Ford, an Arab specialist and former ambassador to Algeria, arrived a day before a U.N. special prosecutor is expected to submit charges against Hezbollah members for their role in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, who served as prime minister from 1992 to 1998 and from 2000 to 2004. The United States withdrew Ambassador Margaret Scobey to protest Syria’s suspected links to the assassins.

President Obama sent Mr. Ford to Syria in a recess appointment last month, after members of the Senate refused to confirm a new ambassador to Damascus, fearing an appointment would be seen as a reward to Syria.


Top officials of Uzbekistan are linked to organized crime, according to a former U.S. envoy in the Central Asian nation.

Jon R. Purnell, U.S. ambassador in Uzbekistan from 2004 to 2007, reached the conclusion about such connections after watching a video shot at an engagement party for the son of Salim Abduvaliyev, whom he described as the “crime boss” of the capital, Tashkent.

In a secret cable released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, Mr. Purnell said the guests in the video included the wives of Finance Minister Rustam Azimov, Foreign Minister Elyor Ganiev, Interior Minister Bakhodir Matlybov and Justice Minister Burtosh Mustafayev. The sister of Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Kasimov also attended the party in July 2005, the ambassador reported.

“Salim’s wife and the wives of the [government] ministers form a tight circle of friends,” Mr. Purnell reported.


Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:


• President Hu Jintao of China, who meets President Obama. He also holds talks with executives from General Electric, Boeing and Microsoft. On Thursday, he addresses a luncheon hosted by the U.S.-China Business Council and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.

Bill Paterson, Australia’s ambassador for counterterrorism, who addresses the Homeland Security Policy Institute.


• Foreign Minister Urmas Paet of Estonia; Andre Sapir, an economics professor at the Free University of Brussels; and Andres Sutt, former deputy governor of the Estonian Central Bank. They hold a briefing at the European Union Delegation to the United States to discuss Estonia’s decision to adopt the euro as its official currency.

Suaad Allami, director of the Sadr City Womens Center and Legal Clinic in Iraq; Jacques Paul Klein, former coordinator of U.N. operations in Liberia; Luz Mendez, a Guatemalan member of the advisory council of the Global Fund for Women; and Alice Nderitu of Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission. They discuss women’s roles in international peace negotiations in a briefing at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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