They said Hof would be authorized to facilitate an expansion of
U.S. relations with Syria, which deteriorated under President George Bush.
In 2005, the United States withdrew its ambassador to Damascus in wake
of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria
was blamed for the car bombing in Beirut in which Hariri and many of his
bodyguards were killed.
The sources said Obama sent emissaries to Syria in September 2008 and
pledged that if elected he would reconcile with the regime of President
Bashar Assad. After his election victory, they said, Obama sent another
message that promised to appoint an ambassador within the first weeks of his
Hof, an Arabic speaker and former U.S. Army officer, was said to be
close to Obama's new Middle East envoy, George Mitchell. Hof worked with
when the latter headed a fact-finding commission on the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict in 2002.
Obama's intention to reconcile with Iran and Syria has been supported by
the Democratic majority in Congress. In February, congressional delegations
were planning visits to Damascus, including one headed by House Foreign
Relations Committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman. Another delegation was
scheduled to include members of the Senate Foreign Relations.
A delegation of the House Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and
Capabilities Subcommittee, headed by Rep. Adam Smith, has already visited
Damascus and met Syrian leaders. The sources said Smith focused his talks on
Obama's plans to end sanctions, particularly the Syrian Accountability
Act, on the Assad regime.
"Congress wants some sort of commitment that Syria will end support to
Hamas and Hizbullah, but this is not expected," a diplomatic source said.
On Feb. 8, the Syrian regime reported a breakthrough in trade relations
with the United States. The state-owned Al Baath daily said the United
States has agreed to sell spare parts for the repair of two Boeing 747
passenger jets owned by the state-owned Syrian airline.
Syrian Transport Minister Yaroub Bader said Damascus received U.S.
approval on Feb. 6. Under U.S. sanctions, Damascus had been denied requests
for weapons and aerospace components.