Obama Appoints Four New Ambassadors

Using his power to make appointments when the Senate is in recess, President Obama has appointed four new ambassadors — to Syria, Turkey, Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic. The four nominees have been waiting an average of five months for Senate confirmation; Robert Stephen Ford, named ambassador to Syria, had been waiting since February. His nomination was blocked by Republicans who didn't want to "reward" Syria as it provides support to Hezbollah and Hamas.

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JACKIE NORTHAM: This is Jackie Northam. The nominations for the four ambassadors appointed by President Obama languished for months in the Senate, stalled or blocked by Republican lawmakers for a variety of reasons.

The recess appointments now mean that Matthew Bryza will become the new U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan. Norman Eisen will head to the Czech Republic. Francis, or Frank, Ricciardone will be the envoy to Turkey, a critical ally of the U.S. And Robert Ford will head to Damascus.

Ford's nomination is by far the most controversial. A number of senators oppose sending any ambassador to Syria. President George W. Bush called back the previous envoy nearly six years ago, after the killing of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria has denied any involvement in the murder.

Marina Ottaway, with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says Ford's appointment means the Obama White House wants to try a different tact with Syria.

Dr. MARINA OTTAWAY (Director, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): The Obama administration is pushing through with its decision that the way to handle, let's say, the rogue states is to engage with them, rather than giving them the cold shoulder.

NORTHAM: Ottaway says many Republicans in Congress dont agree with the seemingly softer approach. Among them is Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the in-coming chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She says Syria continues to sponsor extremism and poses a threat to national security of the U.S. and its allies, such as Israel.

In a statement, Ros-Lehtinen derided Ford's appointment. She says making undeserved concessions to Syria is essentially rewarding it for bad behavior.

But Lawrence Eagleburger, a former career diplomat and secretary of State under George H. W. Bush, disagrees.

Mr. LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER (Former Ambassador and Secretary of State): The appointment of an ambassador is for our purposes, not Syria's. So I dont see why anybody could argue that Syria is being rewarded by our having an ambassador there. To me, thats a specious argument.

NORTHAM: But it's an argument likely to be taken up once Congress reconvenes in January.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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