Engel hits Obama on Syria rapprochement


WASHINGTON (JTA) — A Jewish Democratic U.S. congressman slammed President Obama for reappointing an ambassador to Syria.

New York Rep. Eliot Engel called Obama’s appointment last week of Robert Ford a "mistake."

"Unless Syria has agreed to something I am not privy to behind the scenes — making themselves helpful, ready to take some steps away from Iran, ready to cooperate in the region for peace and stability — then there is some rationale for the move," Engel told The Jerusalem Post this week. "But short of that, I don’t see any rationale in it at this time."

Engel, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was one of the first Democratic congressmen to break with Obama’s Middle East policies dealing with Israel and Iran, though he has said he is heartened by new policies geared to isolate Iran and shore up Israel’s military capabilities.

Engel was a lead sponsor of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, signed into law by former President George W. Bush in December 2003. The act gave the president tools to form sanctions against Syria.

The last ambassador to Syria was recalled in 2005 after Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister who led the reform movement, was assassinated, allegedly on Syrian orders.

Coinciding with the appointment and visits by U.S. officials to Damascus, a travel warning for U.S. citizens visiting Syria was lifted. The State Department’s notification of the change says that "Being a State Sponsor of Terrorism is not a basis for a travel warning."

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