Damascus: Nawaf Al Fares was sworn in as Syria's Ambassador to Iraq, at an official ceremony attended by President Bashar Al Assad and Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem, earlier this week.

Though it is still not clear when he will assume his new duties in Baghdad, sources here confirmed this would take place "just before George W. Bush's term as the US President expires in Washington DC. This would be to show the world that Syria can deliver on Iraq, and will, but does not do that under pressure from the US."

Al Fares, a former secretary of the Ba'ath Party in Deir Ez-Zour, had served as governor of the Qunaitra town since 2002.

Earlier, he had been the governor of the coastal city of Latakia. He is a member of the large and influential Uqaydat tribe that overlaps between Syria and Iraq (located along the Euphrates River) and is currently the head of the tribe in Syria.

Given his tribal standings, Al Fares comes as a heavyweight within the Iraqi tribal community and is expected to exert strong influence among Iraqi Sunnis.

The office of Ambassador to Iraq has been lying vacant since diplomatic relations were suspended between the two countries in August 1980, when, under orders from Saddam Hussain, Iraqi troops stormed the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad during the feud between the rival branches of the Ba'ath Party.

The appointment of Al Fares is highly significant for Syria-Iraq relations and for the tottering Syria-US relations as well, since Washington has been calling upon Arab nations to express their support for post-Saddam Iraq and send their ambassadors to Baghdad. The first country to comply was Egypt.

Standing by Iran

Syria says it "will stand with Iran" amid speculations that Damascus may cut ties as it is engaged in indirect talks with Israel.

"Syria will stand with Iran on all the major strategic issues," President Bashar Al Assad said in an interview with Syria's Channel 10 broadcast on Tuesday, according to Press TV.

"Only one situation would distance Syria from Iran, and that is if Tehran sided with Israel, and if America sided with the Arabs," the Jerusalem Post quoted the Syrian president as saying.

Al Assad also downplayed the recent indirect talks between Israel and Syria, insisting that the term "negotiations" is just too strong for such talks. "What's happening today is not negotiation," Al Assad said.