- Republicans had opposed sending an ambassador to Syria
- Ford, as interim ambassador, has been an active supporter of the Syrian opposition
- Kerry: Ford "embodies American solidarity with the Syrian people"
Overcoming initial opposition to his appointment, Robert Ford has won unanimous confirmation by the Senate as U.S. ambassador to Syria.
President Barack Obama named Ford to the post at the end of last year as an interim appointment over Republican protest. Some Republicans argued that sending an ambassador back to Syria after a five-year absence would send the message that the United States was conferring legitimacy on the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
At his post in Syria, however, Ford has been an active supporter of the Syrian opposition and a vocal critic of the regime's brutal crackdown on protests. He has traveled to cities in Syria where the opposition has been under attack. He himself has been pelted with tomatoes and followed by pro-government supporters.
"We hope that the Syrian people see this as a very strong signal of United States bipartisan support for the work that he's been doing, for the message that the United States has been advocating in support of their democratic aspirations," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at a briefing Tuesday.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry Tuesday applauded Ford's confirmation, which came Monday night, saying, "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."
"With international media banned from entering Syria, Robert has shed important light on the brutality and helped us better understand the emerging opposition," Kerry said. "His July visit to Hama, when he was greeted with a street celebration, temporarily averted a military assault. Last month, he took great risk attending the funeral of a murdered activist just an hour before it was attacked."
The United Nations' Security Council currently is working on a modified draft of a resolution on Syria. It stops short of imposing economic sanctions, however, due to opposition from Russia and China.
Tuesday, a Western diplomat, speaking on background because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, said there is "no prospect" of a Security Council sanctions authorization because of Russian and Chinese opposition. There also is no discussion of any military action by the international community in Syria, the diplomat said.
Russia and China are "historically averse" to military intervention, the diplomat added. Russia has had a long-standing strategic relationship with Syria and "important national interests (of both countries) would be affected if Assad fell," the diplomat said, adding, "They think they are better off with the devil they know."