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US Representative: We Do Not Challenge Russia’s Interests in Syria

US Representative: We Do Not Challenge Russia’s Interests in Syria

Wednesday, 21 November, 2018 - 11:30
US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey. (Reuters)
Washington - Heba El Koudsy
Once Iran pulls its troops out of Syria and a political solution to its crisis is found, all other foreign forces would be ready to leave, US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey said in a conference call with reporters.

However, the official did not include Russia in his demands for foreign troops to leave the country. Russian military presence in Syria includes a naval port and an air base.

“All the other forces would be ready to leave if the Iranians left and if there was a political solution,” he confirmed.

Jeffrey explained that Russia wants a friendly government in Damascus and wants to keep its military bases in Syria and “we are not challenging it”. However, he indicated that Washington wants Moscow to put pressure on Bashar Assad’s regime to change its behavior.

“The Syrian state that has lost half its population, almost half its territory, that cannot receive international support for its reconstruction because of its terrible behavior.”

The United States is trying to make clear to Russia its basic interests that there be a friendly Syrian government and military positions in Syria, he noted, adding that it is in its interest to be its partner and that the Syrian government is supported by the Syrian people.

He reiterated that the international community can not support a government that is acting similar to the Syrian regime and that Russia should do its best to change the actions of the current regime.

Asked about the Iranian militias in Syria, Jeffrey stated that the US is trying to it clarify to Russia that Tehran’s forces are not only there to support the Assad regime, but to achieve long-term goals in the region. They are seeking to impose regional hegemony and influence power in Syria as they did in Lebanon, Yemen and other countries.

Since President Donald Trump took office in January last year, the US focus in Syria has shifted from ousting Assad to combating Iran’s role, explained Jeffrey.

The US has about 2,000 soldiers deployed in northeastern Syria to support Kurdish-led forces who control the area. Turkey has troops in northwestern Syria.

He stressed that Trump's policy on Syria was clear, as Washington seeks to ease the conflict, and therefore welcomed the ceasefire in Idlib and pushed for a UN-led political process based on Resolution 2254.

The envoy stressed that pushing for a political process is crucial to ending the conflict and maintaining security in the region.

He confirmed that the withdrawal of Iranian troops from Syria is an undisputed demand and that changing the regime's conduct is a condition for Syria to receive international aid.

At the same time, Jeffrey refused to set a time frame for the US military presence in Syria.

“More generally we do not put a timeline on the Syrian conflict. It is going on obviously far too long. We want to see it end as soon as possible, but we don’t set any timeline for our involvement because if we did, then people would just wait until we stopped our involvement.”

He explained that US presence confirms its commitment to the security of Syria, whether it is to confront ISIS forces or counter the Iranian influence, saying: “The specific military combat mission of our forces in Syria today is the enduring defeat of ISIS. More broadly, our overall presence in Syria has economic, diplomatic and military aspects.”

He told reporters that Washington has worked closely with the Turkish, French, German and Russian governments to try to ensure that the Istanbul summit, which they held in October, would reinforce revitalizing the political process and de-escalating the conflict.

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