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White House Nominates Top Syria Envoy as Ambassador to Tunisia

The White House nominated Daniel Rubinstein, America’s special envoy for Syria, as ambassador to Tunisia on Monday, putting the thankless job of dealing with the raging civil war in Syria up for grabs.

people walk past the US State Department building July 6, 2011 in Washington, DC . Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
people walk past the US State Department building July 6, 2011 in Washington, DC . Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
people walk past the US State Department building July 6, 2011 in Washington, DC . Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

The White House nominated Daniel Rubinstein, America’s special envoy for Syria, as ambassador to Tunisia on Monday, putting the thankless job of dealing with the raging civil war in Syria up for grabs.

The White House did not respond to questions about whether a successor has been chosen, but rumors are already starting to circulate about potential replacements. One State Department official said the position will be filled, "but we have no additional personnel announcements to make at this time."

Rubinstein, a fluent Arabic speaker and a Middle East expert, served as the top emissary to Syria since 2014, when he replaced then-Ambassador Robert Ford. (Washington closed the U.S. Embassy in Damascus in February 2012 and hasn’t named a full ambassador to Syria since Ford). The job involves a lot of outreach to the diverse range of groups that make up the Syrian opposition. It also involves trying to revive the perpetually stalled peace talks between the opposition and the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad.

The White House nominated Daniel Rubinstein, America’s special envoy for Syria, as ambassador to Tunisia on Monday, putting the thankless job of dealing with the raging civil war in Syria up for grabs.

The White House did not respond to questions about whether a successor has been chosen, but rumors are already starting to circulate about potential replacements. One State Department official said the position will be filled, “but we have no additional personnel announcements to make at this time.”

Rubinstein, a fluent Arabic speaker and a Middle East expert, served as the top emissary to Syria since 2014, when he replaced then-Ambassador Robert Ford. (Washington closed the U.S. Embassy in Damascus in February 2012 and hasn’t named a full ambassador to Syria since Ford). The job involves a lot of outreach to the diverse range of groups that make up the Syrian opposition. It also involves trying to revive the perpetually stalled peace talks between the opposition and the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad.

Between 2009 and 2012, Rubinstein served as consul general at the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. The current holder of that position, Michael Ratney, is one of the officials rumored to replace Rubinstein as special envoy to Syria.

Whoever replaces Rubinstein will have to share turf with Gen. John Allen (ret.) and Ambassador Brett McGurk, who lead the State Department’s effort against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. On the bright side, the position does not require Senate confirmation.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the death toll in Syria has surpassed 210,000 after almost four years of civil war. Almost half of those killed are believed to be civilians. The United Nations says about 3.73 million Syrians have left the country and officially registered as refugees.

News that President Barack Obama planned to nominate Rubinstein for the post in Tunisia was first reported by Josh Rogin. In announcing the nomination, alongside the nomination of Carolyn Alsup as ambassador to Gambia and Paul Jones as ambassador to Poland, Obama said he was “confident that these experienced and hardworking individuals will help us tackle the important challenges facing America.” 

Photo credit: KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

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