US President Donald Trump’s approval for an American company to sign an agreement with the head of the Syrian Democratic Forces on oil investment in northeast Syria is a political step for “recognition” of a Kurdish self-administration in the region, a Syrian Kurdish official said.
The official considered that the US move would contribute to encouraging the Syrian Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli to move further away from Damascus.
“The agreement has a huge political significance,” he said, considering it as a “recognition” of the Kurdish administration.
“It also limits concerns on a possible surprise US pullout from east of the Euphrates,” the official added.
Republican US Senator Lindsey Graham told the Senate on Thursday in the presence of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that SDF General Commander Mazloum Abdi informed him during a phone conversation that the SDF has signed the deal with the American oil company.
In response, Pompeo noted that “the deal took a little longer than we had hoped.”
“We are now in implementation,” he said.
Asharq Al-Awsat learned that Abdi confirmed to Graham that the deal was made by Delta Crescent Energy LLC.
Graham had played a huge role in convincing Trump to keep US troops east of the Euphrates after he announced a partial troop withdrawal from Syria last year.
Trump said in October that a small number of US troops would remain in the area of Syria “where they have the oil,” a reference to oilfields in the Kurdish-controlled region.
“Oil is secured,” he said.
A few days later, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said: “We are now taking some actions... to strengthen our position at Deir Ezzor, to ensure that we can deny ISIS access to the oil fields.”
Under the new oil deal with the SDF, the United States was going to supply two refineries to the area of the Euphrates to produce around 20,000 barrels of oil per day and satisfy part of the oil-rich region’s needs.
Currently Syria produces around 60,000 bpd. Before the war that erupted in 2011, the country produced 360,000 bpd.
The US has expressed determination to stop both Damascus and Moscow from controlling oil reserves in northeastern Syria.
About 300 men working for a Kremlin-linked Russian private military firm were killed in US airstrikes in February 2018 near the Syrian town of Khasham.
"I can promise you that the 300 Russians who were in Syria and who took action that threatened America who are no longer on this planet understand that, too," Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday.
Analysts believe that the Trump administration wants to use the oil deal in addition to its latest sanctions on the Syrian regime to pressure Damascus and Moscow to accept several conditions, including “stopping support for terrorism and cutting military ties with Iran and its militias.”
Other conditions include stopping aggression on neighboring countries, giving up weapons of mass destruction, implementing UN Security Council Resolution 2254 to allow for the voluntary return of Syrian refugees and holding accountable those responsible for war crimes.
The new oil agreement is expected to anger Turkey, which rejects the formation of a Kurdish entity in northern Syria. Damascus is also expected to express reservations on the deal because it would worsen its economic crisis and would give Kurds the upper hand in any negotiations between them and the Assad regime.