WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama has decided to send an ambassador to Syria in ongoing efforts to reinstate diplomatic relations with the country.
"It's a reflection of Syria being a pivotal country in terms of achieving a comprehensive peace in the region," The New York Times reported one senior official as saying.
"There is a lot of work to do in the region for which Syria can play a role. For that, it helps to have a fully staffed embassy," the official said.
The decision follows a visit to Damascus two weeks ago by the administration's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, where he met with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Mitchell, who described the talks as "serious and productive discussions," believes Syria should play a key role in the Middle East peace process. The move comes despite Syrian support of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, both of which are financed, trained and armed by Iran.
"Syria has an integral role to play in reaching a comprehensive peace," Mitchell told reporters following the meeting with Assad in Damascus.
"Syria and the U.S. share an obligation to create conditions for negotiations to begin promptly and end successfully," he said.
In 2005, the Bush administration recalled the U.S. ambassador, following the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Lebanon, which officials in Lebanon and Washington believe Syria had a part in, though Syria denies it.
In early February, Obama lifted an embargo on the airline Syrianair so its two Boeing 747s, which had been grounded for years, could be upgraded.