The Cable

Top Syria official leaving the State Department

Fred Hof, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Special Representative on Syria, is resigning and will leave the State Department later this month, two administration sources confirmed to The Cable.

As one of the two senior officials leading the State Department's Syria team, Hof has been hugely active in the drive to build international cooperation to move Syria to a transition away from the rule of the regime of Bashar al-Assad.  He often traveled to foreign capitals, including Moscow, to push administration objectives on the Syria issue. He was also the lead on dealing with the Lebanon part of the Syria issue and represented the administration at international events with members of the Syrian opposition to plan for a post-Assad Syria, in places such as Turkey and Berlin.

In testimony to Congress last December, Hof delivered some of the harshest rhetoric to date on the Assad regime.

"Our view is that this regime is the equivalent of dead man walking," he said, adding that Assad's cruelty and isolation was turning Syria into "Pyongyang in the Levant."

A former Army officer and Vietnam veteran, Hof first came to prominence as the drafter of the "Long Commission" report, which examined the 1983 bombing on the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, where he served as the Army attaché to the U.S. embassy. After a stint at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, he moved over to the State Department in 1990 and worked on Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon issues before eventually moving to the private sector.

For the first two years of the Obama administration, Hof worked the Syria and Lebanon portfolios for Special Envoy George Mitchell, preparing those tracks just in case Mitchell's efforts on the Israeli and Palestinian tracks ever progressed to the point where regional actors would be brought in. Mitchell's efforts never got that far.

With his departure, the Syria team at the State Department will now be led solely by Ambassador Robert Ford, administration sources said. Larry Williamson, an acting deputy secretary of State in the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau, will take over much of the Lebanon part of the Syria portfolio. There are no immediate plans to appoint a new Special Representative for Syria, the sources said.

Hof did not respond to a request for comment.

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