Republican senators, responding to reports that Syria is arming Hizbullah with lethal long-range Scud missiles, are trying to block the Obama-Clinton team from naming an envoy to Damascus.
Eight senators fired off a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, charging that the Obama administration’s desire to win the nomination of career diplomat Robert Ford as ambassador is a concession to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
U.S. President Barack Obama quietly upgraded diplomatic relations with Syria several months ago, despite the United States' definition of the country as a state that supports terror. Then-President George W. Bush had recalled the American ambassador from Syria in 2005 following the assassination of Lebanon’s anti-Syrian leader Rafiq Hariri. Syria has been fingered as responsible for the murder.
The GOP senators wrote to Secretary Clinton, “Will the proposed ambassador raise any concerns about human rights or democracy in
"Engagement for engagement's sake is not productive. However well-justified that engagement is, the U.S. pays a price for lending even a modicum of international legitimacy to a regime like Syria's….
“American appointment of an official ambassador to Damascus would likely be a partial concession to that ambition -- a concession that other countries with similar policies have not received."
Arming Hizbullah with Scud missiles, which would easily place Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in their range, would give Hizbullah a lethal arsenal far superior to its current stockpile of Katyusha missiles, whose range is 90 percent less and which pounded northern Israel in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Hizbullah and Syria have denied reports, first published by a Kuwaiti newspaper, that they are involved with Scud missiles.
The Obama administration has reversed the policy of the Bush government and claims that the sanctions the Bush government slapped on Syria have driven it closer to Iran.
"It's increasingly hard to argue that the engagement track has worked," Andrew Tabler, a Syria analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told the French news agency AFP.
"Sending an ambassador to Syria who can press the Syrian government in a firm and coordinated fashion...is part of our strategy to achieve comprehensive peace in the region," a White House statement said, contradicting that view.