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U.S. to send ambassador to Syria after 4 years

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has decided to return a U.S. ambassador to Syria after a four-year hiatus as talks between the two nations intensify, U.S. media reported Tuesday.

The State Department informed Syria\'s ambassador to Washington, Imad Mustafa, of Obama\'s intention Tuesday night, a senior administration official told the Washington Post.

By returning a senior U.S. envoy to Damascus, Obama is seeking to carve out a far larger role for the United States in the region as he works to rehabilitate U.S. relations with the Islamic world and the Arab Middle East, the newspaper said.

\"It\'s in our interests to have an ambassador in Syria,\" a senior administration official told CNN.

Mustafa welcomed the decision to name a U.S. envoy to increase dialogue among stakeholders in the Middle East, CNN said. The announcement of a new ambassador is expected to be made later this week but no individual has been chosen to fill the post, the report states.

A State Department spokesperson was not immediately available late Tuesday.

Washington withdrew its ambassador from Syria in 2005 to protest the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Syria denies any involvement in the killing.

A U.N. investigation into the assassination initially implicated several Syrian and Lebanese officials, but its later reports have been more circumspect. A special U.N. tribunal set up to try suspects in Hariri\'s killing began work in The Hague in March.

Relations between Syria and the United States improved after Obama took office in January and U.S. officials said he was committed to seeking a peace deal between Syria and Israel as part of an overall Middle East peace deal.

The Syrian government, however, remains under U.S. sanctions, partly because of what the United States describes as a Syrian role in helping insurgents infiltrate Iraq.

The decision to appoint a U.S. ambassador follows a series of recent visits to Damascus by high-level U.S. military and diplomatic delegations, including a trip this month by Obama\'s Middle East envoy, George J. Mitchell.

\"We\'ve been having more and more discussions, and we need to have someone there to engage,\" the administration official told CNN.


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