Jeffrey on US Objectives in Syria: Defeat ISIS, Get Iran Out
US envoy James Jeffrey has reiterated that the US administration’s presence in Syria is aimed at defeating ISIS and forcing the departure of all Iranian-commanded forces from the war-torn country.
“Eventually, technically, the Syrian government invited them in; we expect the Syrian government to ask them to leave,” Jeffrey said in response to a question on the Iranian forces.
He spoke during a press conference at the State Department on Thursday.
Jeffrey said that Russia, the Syrian regime’s backer, has “been told at the highest level what our policy is, specifically by President Trump at the Helsinki summit now four months ago. We have communications constantly with the Russians at every level. John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, was just in Moscow. Much of the conversation was on Syria. They know the situation.”
Asked about the regime of Bashar Assad, the envoy said: “We’re not about regime change. We’re about a change in the behavior of a government and of a state, and that’s not just our view. That’s the view in a whole series of international agreements related to Syria since 2012, culminating in the resolution of 2254.”
Other than fighting that the US is leading with the Syrian Democratic Forces along the Euphrates River against ISIS, there’s a relative ceasefire in Syria, he said.
“But the conflict is, alas, not over and there are still dangers. There are five outside forces – US, Iranian, Turkish, Russian, and at times Israeli Air Force units – involved in Syria for important, or in several cases of the neighbors, existential interests,” he said.
Jeffrey told reporters that the Syrian regime claims in its diplomatic contacts that it is winning, but it controls only about half-plus of the country’s territory.
“Half of the population has fled its horrific rule, either as internally displaced persons or refugees across the border, and the international community treats – most of it treats Syria as a pariah, and reconstruction funds are not going to flow either from us or from most of the rest of the international community that provides typically reconstruction funds until we see a great deal more progress on the agenda I’ll lay out,” he said.
The envoy stressed that the US military presence in Syria has the sole mission of defeating ISIS.
That presence, “in its work with our partners, indirectly helps affect Iran’s malign activities, and by our presence and by our commitment to security in Syria and in the region, we demonstrate an interest in achieving a political solution by the various ways that we have, not just diplomatic but security and military, through economic tools and other assets that we have and that we’re deploying in this conflict,” he said.
“Our second goal is the de-escalation of the conflict, building on the ceasefires right now. Particularly important is the agreement that the Turks worked out with the Russians in – over Idlib back at the end of September in which the Russians – again in a summit meeting with the leaders of France, Turkey, and Germany on the 27th of October – agreed would be a lasting ceasefire,” he added.