Senior diplomat: Ambassador not a reward for Syria

Washington should not limit communication with Damascus over an alleged arms transfer to Hezbollah, a senior U.S. diplomat said.

Jeffrey Feltman, the former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon and current assistant secretary of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, testified Wednesday before the House of Representatives subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia in the wake of Zouheir Jabbour, the most senior Syrian official in Washington, being summoned to the State Department over the alleged transfer of Scud missiles from Syria to Hezbollah.

Feltman has led the Obama administration’s outreach to Syria.

Feltman was peppered with questions from several lawmakers as to why the United States would seemingly reward bad behavior by Damascus with the appointment of a U.S. ambassador for the first time in five years.

Feltman, while refusing to comment on the Scud missiles in an open setting, adamantly maintained that the appointment of an ambassador was not a reward, and underscored the need for U.S. officials to use all of the diplomatic tools at their disposal to help break up the Syria-Iran relationship.

“He [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] is listening to people like Hassan Nasrallah, he is listening to people like Ahmadinejad,” Feltman said. “We need to be making our message to him loud and clear and directly.”

Asked by Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) to name “the central issues that need to be solved … that are keeping us in a belligerent relationship,” referring in particular to the Golan Heights and water issues, Feltman acknowledged that a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as between Israel and Syria, would solve some issues.