The top US diplomat on Syria Robert Ford plans to step down this summer, several US officials tell the Back Channel.
Ford, who was confirmed as US Ambassador to Syria in 2011 after serving there since 2010 under a recess appointment, saw his job transformed by the unrest that has long since escalated into a full scale civil war. Earlier this month Ford traveled into Syria from Turkey with a convoy of US food aid, to meet with Syrian rebel commanders and urge them to support transition talks planned to be held in Geneva next month.
Ford was again in Turkey Wednesday trying, along with his French, Arab and Turkish diplomatic colleagues, to push Syria’s opposition to agree to expand and diversify its leadership ranks.
He is said by multiple officials to be exhausted, including from his efforts trying to unify the fractious Syrian opposition. The Back Channel was unable to reach Ford Wednesday.
Ford is expected to stay on for the Syria peace conference in Geneva next month, and possibly step aside in July. (One source thought Ford might next take a job at the State Department Inspector General office, but that couldn’t be confirmed.) It is still unclear who will succeed him in the Syria job, or if the role might be revamped to create a special US envoy to the Syrian opposition, State Department sources said.
(The Back Channel previously reported that US Middle East peace envoy David Hale will be nominated to be the next US Ambassador to Lebanon. Secretary of State John Kerry’s Middle East senior advisor Frank Lowenstein is expected to succeed Hale working the Middle East peace portfolio that Kerry has personally spearheaded. US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson will be nominated to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the Near Eastern Affairs.)
Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Beth Jones will travel to Geneva next week to meet Russian counterparts to prepare for the Geneva 2 conference, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki announced Wednesday.
Syrian’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Wednesday that the Syrian government would attend the Geneva talks “with every good intention” to end the conflict. But he said the Syrian opposition was setting “preconditions” for the talks that the Assad government does not accept.
While Iran’s UN envoy last week told Al-Monitor that Iran welcomes the Geneva II conference and is “ready to work within the framework set out in Geneva I to find a non-violent solution to the crisis,” the State Department’s Psaki said Wednesday the United States was not aware that Iran had been invited.
(Photo: US ambassador to Syria Robert Ford in Jisr al-Shughur, northwest Damascus. Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images.)