Could the US send Syria a frum envoy?

By Hilary Krieger, Washington, July 9, 2009
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The Obama administration is currently deciding who will become America’s next ambassador to Syria.

The diplomatic post is to be filled for the first time in four years, as US efforts to engage with Syria intensify.

The administration is hoping that, through persistent diplomacy, the US will be able to peel Syria out of the orbit of Iran, with whom it has a strategic alliance, and lead it toward a more positive relationship with the West.

This would include a peace treaty with Israel and the cutting of support for Hamas, Hizbollah and other Iranian-financed terror outfits.
With protests in Iran exposing the weakness of the country’s leaders, America hopes the offer of Western redemption will become more appealing to Damascus.

Syria, for its part, keenly wants the return of a US ambassador. The post has been vacant since 2005, when America recalled its envoy after the assassination of anti-Syrian Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri and widespread accusations that Damascus had a hand in the murder, despite Syrian denials.

The Syrians would like to a see a high-profile envoy who can play a role in shaping policy and help them end their diplomatic isolation, according to Washington analysts.

Yet the Obama administration may be reluctant to choose a high-power political appointee precisely because it is afraid of lending the Assad regime added legitimacy.

Two names currently making the rounds are former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer and outgoing Consul General in Jerusalem Jacob Walles. The latter is a career diplomat who has worked with Palestinians in his Jerusalem job and has kept a lower profile, as he would be expected to do should he serve in Damascus.

Mr Kurtzer once served as ambassador to Egypt and was an early and important backer of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. However, he has strongly denied being under consideration for the job.
Mr Kurtzer also comes from an Orthodox Jewish background, which one Syria analyst considered a liability in the position.

“His Jewishness and close relationship to the Jewish community in the US will undoubtedly make many Syrians believe that he may act as ‘Israel’s lawyer,’” blogged University of Oklahoma Middle East scholar Joshua Landis, whom many perceive as pro-Syrian.
He added, however, that many Middle East envoys have been Jewish and that “Syrians have gotten used to it even if they are not happy about it.”

Mr Landis pointed to the advantages of Mr Kurtzer’s higher profile and ability to potentially sell a deal to Israelis.
“We know too little about Jake Walles to say anything about his abilities or politics. In the mean time, we can be content that an ambassador will be returned to Damascus.”

    Last updated: 4:49pm, July 9 2009