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(photo credit: AP)
TALLINN, Estonia — The Obama administration is still committed to improving relations with Syria despite its "deeply troubling" moves to aid Hizbullah in neighboring Lebanon, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.
Clinton, speaking at a news conference before the opening of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in this Baltic capital, said the administration has concluded that the benefits of sending a US ambassador to Damascus — after a five-year absence — outweigh the costs.
"The larger question as to what the United States will do with respect to Syria is one we've spent a lot of time considering and debating inside the administration," she said. "Where we are as of today is that we believe it is important to continue the process to return an ambassador; this is not some kind of reward for the Syrians and the actions they take that are deeply disturbing."RELATED:
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She said the presence of an ambassador gives Washington a better insight into what is happening in Damascus.
"We have a long list of areas that we have discussed with the Syrians
and we intend to continue pushing our concerns, and we think having an
ambassador there adds to the ability to convey that message strongly
and hopefully influence behavior in Syria," she said.Senators threaten to hold up confirmation
Some US senators are threatening to hold up the confirmation of the
administration's choice for US ambassador to Syria — career diplomat
Robert Ford — because of unconfirmed reports that Syria was
transferring Scud missiles to Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Clinton did not confirm the reports. Without mentioning Scuds or Iran,
which many believe is the source of the missiles, she described the
situation in a way that strongly suggested that the US does not believe
Scuds have been transferred to Hizbullah yet.
Clinton referred to "these stories that do suggest there has been some
transfer of weapons technology into Syria with the potential purpose of
then later transferring it to Hizbullah inside Syria." Pressed to say
whether she meant that the Scuds in Syria had originated in Iran, she
replied, "I just said that we have expressed our concern about that."
Israel has accused Syria of providing the group with Scuds. A Scud has
a far longer range and can carry a much bigger warhead than the rockets
Hizbullah has used in the past, and could reach anywhere in Israel from
terrorist bases in southern Lebanon. Syria has denied the charge, as
has Lebanon's Western-backed prime minister.
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