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State doesn’t deny Syria envoy report

WASHINGTON (JTA) — A State Department spokesman would not deny a report that the Obama administration is considering returning an ambassador to Syria.

Gordon Duguid was asked to comment on an interview in the British daily newspaper The Guardian in which Bashar Assad, Syria’s president, said he expected the United States to send an ambassador.

"Those people in the State Department who are conducting our review on our policy towards Syria have also seen the article," Duguid said Wednesday. "We’re not at the end of that review of policy yet, and so I don’t have an official reaction to those statements for you. However, Syria can play a role, and a positive role, in the region by trying to help bring peace and stability to the Middle East. And I think the Syrians understand that they can do that."

The interview took place on the eve of Assad’s meeting with U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is close to President Obama.

"An ambassador is important," Assad told the Guardian. "Sending these delegations is important. This number of congressmen coming to Syria is a good gesture. It shows that this administration wants to see dialogue with Syria."

President Bush withdrew the U.S. ambassador in 2004, using the provisions of the Syria Accountability Act, the legislation passed in 2003 that authorizes sanctions as a means of pressuring Syria to end its backing for terrorism, its meddling in Lebanon and Iraq ,and its major weapons programs.

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