On Tuesday China said that it is sending a special envoy to Syria a day after the State Department announced it had summoned its own ambassador to Syria back to Washington over concerns for his personal safety, or simply for consultations, depending on whom at Foggy Bottom you ask.
“Ambassador Robert Ford was brought back to Washington as a result of credible threats against his personal safety in Syria. At this point, we can’t say when he will return to Syria,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner wrote in an email sent out to the press Monday morning.
During Foggy Bottom’s press briefing later that afternoon, however, another spokesperson, Victoria Nuland, said that Ford had only been brought back to Washington for consultations and would return to Damascus, the Syrian capital, after those consultations were finished (without speculating on when that may be).
Ford, a former ambassador to Algeria and deputy ambassador to Iraq, was first nominated to serve as the U.S. ambassador to Syria by President Obama in February 2010. At the time, the United States had not had an ambassador in Syria for over five years.
Congress refused to confirm Ford in 2010 in protest of Syria arming the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah with scud missiles, as well general opposition to the Obama administration’s engagement strategy towards the Syrian government led by Bashir al-Assad. Last December, President Obama used a recess appointment (which doesn’t require Congressional confirmation) to appoint Ford the acting ambassador, with Senate confirmation required by the end of 2011.
Since protests broke out in Syria earlier this year, Ford has been a tireless and courageous advocate on behalf of the Syrian protesters. He has accused the Syrian government of torture, attended funerals of Libyan activists killed by the regime, and has regularly traveled outside of the Syrian capital-in defiance of travel restrictions placed upon him by the Assad government-in order to meet with protesters throughout the country. These actions managed to win over skeptics in the Senate, which finally confirmed him earlier this month.
At the same time, Ford’s conduct has infuriated the Syrian government and government thugs have repeatedly attacked him in recent months. Apparently, the danger to Ford’s person eventually became too great, prompting the State Department to call him home.
As Ford returned to Washington, a spokesperson from China’s Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday that Beijing’s special envoy to the Middle East, Wu Sike, would travel to Damascus later this month. Although the FM official did go into details about the purpose of the trip, at the same briefing she did call upon the Assad regime to stop the bloodshed and institute reforms.
“We hope that all sides in Syria can put the interests of the country and people first, discard violence, avoid bloodshed and clashes, and resolve differences via dialogue in a peaceful way,” the spokesperson said. “We believe that Syria’s government should proactively fulfill its promises of reform, and answer the people’s reasonable demands,” the Chinese official said.
Earlier this month China and Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution that threatened the Syrian government with sanctions if it continued its violent crackdown on protesters. Beijing and Moscow’s veto was strongly condemned by the United States and other Western governments.
In other news relating to Syria, over the weekend Sen. John McCain said that the U.S. and NATO may start considering their military options in Syria. “Now that military operations in Libya are ending, there will be renewed focus on what practical military operations might be considered to protect civilian lives in Syria,” the former Presidential candidate said during a speech in Jordan. Thus far, the Obama administration has demonstrated little interest in intervening militarily in Syria.