WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated Jeffrey Feltman, a former ambassador to Lebanon who recently paid a rare visit to Syria, as the top US diplomat on the Middle East.
Obama praised the "skill and dedication" of Feltman and three other nominees presented Wednesday, voicing hope they would "serve the American people well as we work to keep our nation safe at home and abroad."
An Arabic speaker and career diplomat, Feltman needs Senate approval to be confirmed as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.
He would replace David Welch, who was seen as a defender of Arab interests in the administration of president George W. Bush.
Feltman has already been the acting assistant secretary. In his capacity, he and a fellow envoy last month paid the first trip to Syria by high-level US officials in four years.
Feltman said at the time that his trip was "constructive" and was part of the Obama administration's new effort of trying to engage all nations.
US-Syrian ties were especially tense under former president George W. Bush, who accused Damascus of meddling in neighboring Lebanon and turning a blind eye to the flow of arms and supplies to insurgents in Iraq.
Feltman earlier served as the US ambassador to Lebanon, including during the 2006 Israeli offensive against the Shiite militant movement Hezbollah.
Testifying last month before Congress, Feltman said the United States "emphatically" rejected opening contacts with Hezbollah -- a step recently taken by British.
He also said Lebanon's next government after its June elections should be decided by "Lebanese themselves, for Lebanon, free from outside interference, political intimidation and violence."