Page last updated at 06:04 GMT, Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Obama nominates first US ambassador to Syria since 2005

Roman columns in Damascus, Syria
The US has imposed financial and trade sanctions on Syria

US President Barack Obama has formally nominated career diplomat Robert Ford as the first American ambassador to Syria in five years.

There has been no US envoy in Syria since Damascus was implicated in the murder of ex-Lebanon PM Rafik Hariri.

The White House announcement came on the eve of a visit to Syria by William Burns, a top state department official.

Analysts say the US now wants to renew dialogue with Syria as part of a wider push for Middle East peace.

Mr Burns is due to meet Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the capital Damascus as a part of a regional tour.


His visit comes soon after Damascus approved the nomination of Mr Ford, a former ambassador to Algeria and most recently a deputy ambassador to Iraq.

"His appointment represents President Obama's commitment to use engagement to advance US interests by improving communication with the Syrian government and people," the White House said in a statement.

If successfully confirmed by the US Senate, Mr Ford would "engage the Syrian government on how we can enhance relations, while addressing areas of ongoing concern," the White House added.

Syrian-American relations have been troubled over the last five years, but bridges are slowly being built, the BBC's Lina Sinjab reports from Damascus.

In 2005, the US withdrew its ambassador following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Damascus was blamed for the killing, an accusation that Syria has always denied.

Our correspondent says relations were strained even before Mr Hariri's assassination.

In 2004, the US Congress passed the Syria Accountability Act - which prohibits American goods from being sold to Syria - and imposed financial sanctions.

The US still has concerns over Syria's support for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and would want Syria to help in stabilising Iraq and influencing Iran over its nuclear program, she adds.

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