Ambassador Robert Ford heads back to Syria


(Jewel Samad — AFP/Getty Images)

GENEVA — The U.S. ambassador to Syria will return to Damascus on Tuesday night, a month and a half after being called home following concerns about his personal safety.

“Ambassador Robert Ford has completed his consultations in Washington and is returning to Syria,” State Department Mark Toner said in a brief statement. “He will continue the work he was doing previously .... We believe his presence in the country is among the most effective ways to send the message that the United States stands with the people of Syria.”

When Ford was called home for consultations in October, officials accused the Syrian government of backing a campaign of intimidation against him. Government loyalists responded to his visit with a dissident by mobbing the dissident’s home and hurling tomatoes and eggs at it, trapping Ford inside. In another incident, a government supporter harassed the envoy before being shoved off by a bodyguard.

Since Ford’s departure, President Bashar al-Assad has come under even more pressure to step down, with the Arab League imposing unprecedented sanctions against members of his government. The death toll in the government’s crackdown against pro-democracy activists has risen — an estimated 4,000 people have been killed in the uprising since March, according to the United Nations.

The State Department had previously said Ford would be returning to Damascus, but it was unclear exactly when he would do so.

Word of his impending return came as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was preparing to meet here with top members of the Syrian National Council, a leading opposition group based outside the country.

Karen DeYoung is associate editor and senior national security correspondent for the Washington Post.

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