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Former U.S. ambassador to Syria considered for Egypt: sources

United States Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford speaks to Reuters during the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria at Bayan
United States Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford speaks to Reuters during the International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria at Bayan

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former U.S. envoy to Syria Robert Ford is being considered as Washington's next ambassador to Cairo, sources familiar with internal discussions said on Sunday as U.S. and European mediators sought a peaceful resolution to Egypt's crisis.

Ford was described as a leading candidate for the post, according to two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. The State Department declined to comment and Ford did not respond to emails.

Ford, a fluent Arabic speaker, had antagonized Syria's government with his high-profile support for demonstrators trying to end 41 years of rule by President Bashar al-Assad.

He was withdrawn from Syria briefly in October 2011 because of threats to his safety. He left Damascus for good four months later after the United States suspended embassy operations as the situation in Syria deteriorated.

In May 2013, he briefly crossed into northern Syria to meet with opposition leaders, the highest-ranking U.S. official to go into Syria since its war began.

His likely appointment to Cairo would come at a vital time in relations between Egypt and United States. The United States has refused to label the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi by the military a coup.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was heavily criticized on Friday after he told a Pakistani television network that the Egyptian army had been "restoring democracy" when it toppled Mursi a month ago.

Almost 300 people have been killed in political violence since Mursi's overthrow.

Kerry dispatched his No. 2, William Burns, to Cairo last week to work with European and Arab nations to try to restore calm in Egypt through a political settlement between the interim government and Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood.

Ford would be no newcomer to tough diplomatic assignments. He served in Iraq and Algeria and did a stint at the embassy in Cairo, where he was an economic counselor from 1988 to 1991.

Ford would succeed Anne Patterson, who was nominated on Thursday by the White House as the next Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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