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US to send ambassador back to Syria: official

Obama to appoint envoy four years after withdrawal

President Barack Obama has decided to return a U.S. ambassador to Syria after a four-year hiatus as engagement between the two nations intensifies, U.S. media reported on Tuesday.

The State Department informed Syria's ambassador to Washington, Imad Mustafa, of Obama's intention on Tuesday night, a senior administration official told the Washington Post.

"It did not make any sense to us not to be able to speak with an authoritative voice in Damascus," the senior administration official said on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been publicly announced. "It was our assessment that total disengagement has not served our interests."

The return of a senior U.S. envoy to Damascus comes on the heels of several recent visits by high-level delegations, including Middle East envoy George Mitchell and military officials, as Obama seeks to rehabilitate U.S. relations in the region and ensure Syria’s support for Arab-Israeli peace talks, combating the insurgency in Iraq and dealing with Hamas.

"It's in our interests to have an ambassador in Syria," a senior administration official told CNN, though Obama has not chosen anyone yet.

Mustafa welcomed the decision to name a U.S. envoy to increase dialogue among stakeholders in the Middle East.

It was our assessment that total disengagement has not served our interests

Anonymous U.S. official

"All of these talks, the quality of the discussion and the level of engagement has been unprecedented, at least for the last eight years," Mustapha told CNN.

A State Department spokesperson was not available on Wednesday to confirm and the White House did not return messages left by Al Arabiya.

Washington withdrew its ambassador from Syria in 2005 to protest the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, which it blamed for the bombing that left 22 dead. Syria denies any involvement in the killing and a special United Nations tribunal has been set up to investigate and try suspects.

The Syrian government remains under U.S. sanctions, partly because of what the United States describes as a Syrian role in helping insurgents infiltrate Iraq.


(With Reuters)

All of these talks, the quality of the discussion and the level of engagement has been unprecedented, at least for the last eight years

Imad Mustafa, Syria\\\\\\\'s ambassador to Washington