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US Diplomat Seeks Areas of Cooperation with Syria

Ambassador Robert Ford appears before a committee hearing on his nomination to be ambassador to Syria in Washington, DC, 16 Mar, 2010

U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee for American ambassador to Syria says returning an envoy to that nation could help efforts to stabilize the Middle East.

Robert Ford told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday that Syria has said it wants a just and lasting Middle East peace and a stable, secure Iraq.

He said that in 2007, 100 foreign fighters a month were entering Iraq, while now there are about 10. He said Syria could lower that to zero. Ford said he would seek additional ways to work with Syria to help the many Palestinian and Iraqi refugees there.

He said Syria also must be persuaded that Iran and the Lebanese-based militant group Hezbollah do not share Syria's long-term strategic interest in a comprehensive Middle East peace.

If confirmed, Ford would become the first U.S. ambassador to Syria in five years.

Ford told the committee that as regional tensions grow in the Middle East, the U.S. must be talking every day with top level officials who have influence and decision-making authority.

The United States withdrew its ambassador to Syria after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005. Many countries have blamed Syria for the assassination, but Damascus has denied involvement.

The United States said last June it planned to reinstate its ambassador to Syria, as part of the Obama administration's efforts to improve relations with Damascus and advance the Middle East peace process.

The U.S. has long accused Syria of supporting Islamic militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah, both of which Washington considers terrorist organizations. Washington also has voiced concern about Syria's human rights record and its role in neighboring Lebanon.