Turkey, Middle East

US Syria envoy dubs Iran ‘biggest challenge’

Jeffrey, former US ambassador to Turkey, holds talks with top Turkish officials ahead of his visit to Saudi Arabia

Handan Kazancı   | 11.01.2020
US Syria envoy dubs Iran ‘biggest challenge’ U.S. Special Representative for Syria, James Jeffrey speaks to media on the current situation in Syria and Iran-U.S crisis at a hotel in Istanbul, Turkey on January 11, 2020. ( Onur Çoban - Anadolu Agency )

ISTANBUL

U.S. Special Envoy for Syria James Jeffrey on Saturday dubbed Iran as the “biggest challenge”. 

“The Trump administration has made it very clear that it is taking a very strong position on pushing back on Iran,” Jeffrey told a small group of journalists in Istanbul on Saturday.

“The biggest challenge at the moment is, of course, Iran. Because Daesh, […] the territorial Caliphate has been destroyed,” he added.

“But Daesh poses very serious risks to Iraq […] and considerable threat to Syria. Not so much in the northeast where we are, but to the south of the Euphrates River. We're very concerned about Daesh,” he added.

Last week, Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' (IRGC) elite Quds Force, was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad.

His death marked a dramatic escalation in tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which have often been at a fever pitch since President Donald Trump chose in 2018 to unilaterally withdraw Washington from a 2015 nuclear pact world powers struck with Tehran.

Earlier this week, Iran's IRGC launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles against U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq. 

Meetings with top Turkish officials

Jeffrey visited Turkey’s capital Ankara and later Istanbul to meet Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Turkey’s Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin as well as Syrian opposition members to discuss the situation in northeastern Syria, UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and anti-Daesh coalition efforts in Syria and Iraq.

Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, was appointed as U.S. special representative to Syria in 2018.

“I'm here at the request of my boss, Secretary [Mike] Pompeo as the first stop here in Turkey of a trip through the Middle East and through this region to continue our efforts for a political solution to the tragedy of Syria that's been continuing since 2011,” Jeffrey said.

Jeffrey said that the major issues he discussed with the Turkish officials were the possibility of elections under UN resolution 2254, the situation in Syria’s northeast and U.S. concerns regarding the Russian and Iranian support for Assad.

The U.S. and its NATO ally Turkey are coordinating closely “on various aspects of the Syrian conflict, the Constitutional Committee, which has been frozen by the refusal of the [Bashar al] Assad regime to move forward and the horrific offensive in Idlib,” said the U.S. special envoy. 

“We've been talking with senior Turkish officials on the Idlib question [...] We, with Turkey, of course, have forces on the ground and we have an agreement with them, the October 17 statement, on how things will be worked out in the Baris Pinari Operasyonu [Operation Peace Spring] area,” he said using the Turkish name for Turkey’s Peace Spring Operation.

On Oct. 9, Turkey had launched Operation Peace Spring to eliminate terrorists from northern Syria in order to secure Turkey’s borders, aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.

On Oct. 17, Turkey agreed to pause its Operation Peace Spring for 120 hours to allow the withdrawal of terrorist YPG/PKK forces from the planned safe zone.

Ankara wants to clear northern Syria east of the Euphrates River of the terrorist PKK and its Syrian offshoot, the YPG/PKK.

In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and the European Union -- has been responsible for deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants. 

Humanitarian delivery to Syria 

Jeffrey highlighted cooperation between Turkey and the U.S. on humanitarian deliveries to Syria.

“The United States is the biggest single international donor to humanitarian aid inside of Syria,” he said, adding the U.S. has “given $10 billion for the humanitarian assistance for the Syrian people.”

“Turkey, of course, has played a huge role with tens of billions of dollars for the refugees inside Turkey,” Jeffrey added.

The U.S. special envoy said his country support’s Turkey’s efforts for cease-fire in Idlib.

“We support the latest cease-fire and Turkey's efforts to achieve it. We support Turkey’s military position and posture in Idlib and we talked about ways to make the cease-fire more effective,” he added.

On Friday, Turkey announced a new cease-fire in Idlib rocked by violence -- though “acts of aggression” are already officially banned -- is set to start just after midnight on Sunday, Jan. 12.

“We have continued to talk with the Turks about that. We've worked with the Turks to achieve a ceasefire with the Baris Pinari Operasyonu. And we're basically happy with the conclusions of it. So these coordination will continue,” he added.

When asked if the residual number of U.S. forces in Syria providing symbolic protection to the YPG/PKK from Turkey, Jeffrey said: “Certainly they're not […]”

“What they're doing is continuing the training and operations against Daesh. That's the official mission of the U.S. troops in northeast Syria. That requires working with local partners,” he said.

“The specific mission of the American military is to continue the fight against Daesh,” he added.

Jeffrey last visited Turkey in November last year to meet Turkish and Syrian opposition officials.

On Jan. 12, Jeffrey will arrive in Riyadh to meet Saudi officials to discuss efforts to promote stability and security in Syria as well as the need to continue stabilization activities to ensure the enduring defeat of the Daesh/ISIS terror group.


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