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US Swears in New Ambassador to Syria

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has sworn in the new U.S. ambassador to Syria, filling the post that has been vacant for six years.

President Barack Obama appointed career diplomat Robert Ford last month, using a constitutional power that enables him to make appointments without Senate approval when the body is in recess.

Mr. Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush, recalled the last U.S. envoy to Syria in 2005 after Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was killed. Syria was widely blamed for the bomb attack in which he died.

The State Department on Friday said a U.S. diplomat is needed in the country. Spokesman Philip Crowley said the U.S. has significant interests in Damascus and across the Middle East, and a high-level representative will make it possible to deliver strong, consistent messages to the Syrian government. He said being without an ambassador serves no purpose other than to disadvantage the United States.

Senate Republicans opposed sending any envoy to Syria, noting U.S. officials say the Middle Eastern country has provided support to terrorist organizations including the Lebanese-based Hezbollah.

The United States has designated Syria a "state sponsor of terrorism."

President Obama nominated Ford last year, but Senate Republicans blocked his confirmation. White House officials justified Mr. Obama's appointment of Ford and other officials during the Senate recess, saying the nominees had waited, on average, well over 100 days each for a confirmation vote.

Any appointment the president makes when the Senate is not in session remains valid until the end of the next session of Congress.