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U.S. names envoy to replace retiring ambassador to Syria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Daniel Rubinstein, a career diplomat with extensive experience in the Middle East, will replace Ambassador Robert Ford as the Obama administration's point man in Syria, the U.S. State Department announced on Monday.

Rubinstein's appointment as U.S. special envoy for Syria comes as the United States and allies work seek to resolve Syria's 3-year-old civil war and push Damascus to fulfill its commitment to eliminate chemical weapons.

Ford, who became ambassador to Syria in 2011, is retiring. He had been instrumental in getting Syrian opposition groups to join talks with President Bashar al-Assad's government in Geneva last month but the talks ended with no progress.

Rubinstein, who speaks Arabic, will travel to the Middle East later this month for consultations with Syrians and others on the civil war.

Rubinstein has most recently worked at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and previously served in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia.

"It's more than fair to say that he is among our government's foremost experts on the Middle East and has served with distinction in some of our most challenging and high-profile regional missions, including Damascus," Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

"Special Envoy Rubinstein's leadership and counsel will be vital as we redouble our efforts to support the moderate opposition, shore up our partners, counter the rise of extremism that threatens us all, and address the devastating humanitarian crisis and its impact on the neighboring states."

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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