U.S. Syria Envoy Confirmed Amid Political Divisions

U.S Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford's appointment officially confirmed 19 months after he took on the position.

The appointment of Robert Ford as U.S. Ambassador to Syria, due to expire at the end of this year, was confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate late on Monday.

Ford, who has already been in the role for 19 months despite lacking the official confirmation, was appointed to the post by President Barack Obama amid a fierce debate, with conservatives claiming that the appointment sent a wrong message to the Syrian regime, which has not reciprocated to any of the Obama administration’s demands.

ford obama - United States Government Work - August 3 2011
United States Government Work

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said in a statement following Ford's confirmation that "the Senate sent a tough message to the Assad regime. Robert Ford's presence in Damascus applies far more pressure than his symbolic withdrawal would have because Robert embodies American solidarity with the Syrian people.”

“Despite even being physically attacked and assaulted by the regime’s goons, Ford continues courageously to visit cities under military siege and speak truth to power,” Kerry added.

Meanwhile Robert Danin, Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations told Haaretz that, "if all he was doing was sitting at the Embassy and confirming de-facto the legitimacy of the government - those who object his presence there were right. But he is really a thorn in the side of the regime."

"He provides eyes and ears to what is happening there. It's a very difficult country to watch from outside, since it doesn’t have a free press,” Danin said.

“He is talking to the Syrian opposition - there is a gap in opposition between those who are inside and those who are outside, in Istanbul, Europe or here in Washington. Besides, it's an important symbol of American support for the people of Syria. It is dangerous, but the government of Syria always has a choice to expel him, and he pushes them as far as he can go. Either he will be able to continue very activist role on the ground - or they will expel him," Danin added.

Ford has been actively engaging in diplomacy with the Syrian government since the outbreak of violence against opponents of President Bashar Assad’s regime earlier this year. He has also taken risks by meeting with members of the opposition, attending funerals and houses of the victims' families, and expressing American displeasure with the regime’s crackdown against protesters through the U.S. Embassy in Damascus’ Facebook page.

The U.S. Embassy and his residence were attacked following his visit to the city of Hama, and about a week ago supporters of President Bashar Assad pelted Ford and embassy staff with eggs as he visited a prominent Syrian opposition figure in Damascus.

On Sunday, the state-run Al Baath newspaper warned against meddling in Syrian affairs if he wants to avoid more 'rotten eggs' attacks in the future. The newspaper accused Ford of supporting armed anti-government groups in Syria, and said his meddling will not be tolerated.

On the U.S. Embassy in Damascus Facebook page, Ford wrote that he respects the right of all Syrians to protest - "this includes those who are pro-regime and demonstrate accordingly", but stressed that the UN Declaration "does specifically say “peaceful protest”.... - the September 29 incident in front of Hassan Abdul Azim’s office was not peaceful."

"Look at the photos of the U.S. Embassy vehicles – eggs and tomatoes do not do such damage", he wrote. "Protesters threw concrete blocks at the windows and hit the cars with iron bars. One person jumped on the hood of the car, tried to kick in the windshield and then jumped on the roof. Another person held the roof railing and tried to break the car’s side window. The mob also tried to break through Abdul Azim’s office door. Is that peaceful? I’d call it intolerant if not worse."