MUNICH: The US envoy for Syria said his country’s withdrawal from Syria will not be “abrupt” and that Washington is working to ensure allies don’t feel “under-consulted.”
President Donald Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria angered some allies, confounded US military officials and prompted Jim Mattis to resign as defense secretary.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, US envoy James Jeffrey said the Trump administration has told allies “continuously since mid-December that ... this is not going to be an abrupt or a rapid withdrawal. It’s going to be an orderly, step-by-step withdrawal.”
Jeffrey added: “We are consulting very carefully and very closely with them. If they felt that they weren’t consulted enough initially, we are doing our very, very best night and day, believe me, to ensure that they don’t feel under-consulted right now.”
Meanwhile, Russia said Syria’s Kurds should start a dialogue with President Bashar Assad as their military allies the US are readying to pullout.
“We support this dialogue between Damascus and the Kurds,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin, whose country is a key backer of the Assad regime.
Kurdish fighters have spearheaded the fight against Daesh terrorists, who were expected to lose their final stretch of land in coming days. However, neighboring Turkey views them as “terrorists.”
The presence of American troops in areas held by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has so far acted as a shield against any Turkish offensive. But Trump in December shocked Washington’s allies by announcing a full withdrawal soon of all 2,000 US troops from Syria.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar charged again on Sunday, at the Munich Security Conference, that the Kurdish YPG, a major part of the SDF, are a “terrorist group.”
“Our main concern before and after the withdrawal of the Americans is the safety and security of our border and our people,” he said.
Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies have led two previous offensives inside Syria, most recently seizing the northwestern enclave of Afrin from the Kurds last year.
Russia’s Vershinin addressed the same issue at the conference, asking “what will happen after the US withdraws from Syria?
“If there are no foreign troops on the ground of Syria’s northeastern part, I think that the best solution would be to start up a dialogue between the Kurds and Damascus.”
“The Kurds are a part of the population of Syria ... We know about the problems between Damascus and the Kurds but I think there is a solution through dialogue.”
The Kurds have largely stayed out of Syria’s eight-year civil war, instead building their own institutions in a third of the country under their control.
Trump has attempted to ease tensions about their fate by speaking of a 30-km “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country would establish the “security zone” itself if it took too long to implement.
James Franklin Jeffrey, US special representative for Syria engagement, said that the US “want to take care of the security concerns of our Turkish NATO allies vis-a-vis in particular the SDF, and we are very concerned that the SDF, with whom we fought, is not mistreated.”
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab said it was “clear the Americans are looking at it from one angle, and the Turks are looking at it from a different angle.”