x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

US ambassador 'to return to Syria'

US media reports say President Barack Obama will reinstate an American diplomatic presence in Syria after a four-year hiatus.

WASHINGTON // President Barack Obama has decided to return a US ambassador to Syria after a four-year hiatus as talks between the two nations intensify, according to US media reports. The State Department informed Syria's ambassador to Washington, Imad Mustafa, of Mr Obama's intention on Tuesday night, a senior administration official told the Washington Post. The announcement of a new ambassador is expected to be made later this week but no individual has been chosen to fill the post, the reports state.

A State Department spokesperson was not immediately available for comment. Washington withdrew its ambassador from Syria in 2005 to protest the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri. Relations between Syria and the United States improved after Mr Obama took office in January and US officials said he was committed to seeking a peace deal between Syria and Israel as part of an overall Middle East peace deal.

The Syrian government, however, remains under US sanctions, partly because of what the United States describes as a Syrian role in helping insurgents infiltrate Iraq. The decision to appoint a US ambassador follows a series of recent visits to Damascus by high-level US military and diplomatic delegations, including a trip there this month by Mr Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell. *Reuters