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Trump’s revised policy on Syria means staying

James Jeffrey, the US State Department’s special representative for Syria, has spelled out the Trump administration’s policy towards Syria quite clearly.

Published: September 9, 2018, 9:11 am

    The US has no intention to withdraw its military presence from Syria, as announced by the special representative for Syria, Jeffrey, on 6 September.

    According to Jeffrey, the Trump administration wants to remain in Syria in order to reduce Iranian influence and prevent Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad from consolidating power.

    President Donald Trump supports the strategy that envisions an indefinite military and diplomatic presence in Syria, contrary to the President’s previous inclination to withdraw US troops after defeating ISIS, Jeffrey said.

    “The new policy is we’re no longer pulling out by the end of the year,” he told the media in Washington.

    It was first stated that the 2 200 US troops deployed to eastern Syria in support of the multi-national coalition against ISIS, were going to leave. Now they will remain to bolster a combined military and diplomatic effort to limit Iranian and Russian influence over post-war reconstruction.

    “That means we are not in a hurry,” Jeffrey said, adding that he was “confident” Trump supports what he called a “more active approach” in Syria.

    The Daily Caller reported that the strategy had been under consideration for within the Trump administration for months, but stalled because of Trump’s reluctance to deepen the US involvement in Syria.

    “We’ve started using new language,” Jeffrey said, referring to previous warnings against the use of chemical weapons. This time, he added, the United States will not tolerate “an attack. Period”. But he did not elaborate on the “attack”.

    According to Turkish outlet Hurriyet daily, James Jeffrey’s remarks also hint at a more active US diplomacy against the Bashar al-Assad rule and its main supporters, Russia and Iran.

    This new policy has already been observed at the UN Security Council where the US, France and Britain have taken positions against the potential use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government in Idlib and elsewhere in the country.

    In support of the Idlib operation, Russia has deployed a significant naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean, with weaponry capable of reaching across Syria. The presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran gathered in Tehran on Friday to hold their third summit on a Syrian settlement.

    US Marines have meanwhile conducted a live-fire aerial assault exercise in southern Syria on Friday, The Washington Post reported.

    It was designed as a warning to Russia and the Syrian government against a planned offensive in Idlib province in northwest Syria, the largest remaining pocket of jihadist fighters.

    Over the past seven years the jihadists with foreign backing, have tried but failed to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.

    The Marine exercise took place near the US garrison at al Tanf, along the Syrian-Iraqi border near Jordan, in the area of a “deconfliction zone”. It followed a Russian notification – and subsequent US rejection – of a plan to enter the zone to pursue terrorists.

    Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told TASS ahead of the meeting that the three leaders were going to discuss the expected chemical provocation by jihadists in the area.  “They will also touch upon the possibility of various provocations staging the use of chemical weapons by Damascus.”

    White Helmet surrogates delivered a large shipment of toxic substances to a warehouse used by jihadists in Idlib province, Maj. Gen. Alexei Tsygankov, head of the Russian Center for Syrian Reconciliation, warned last week.

    But their are still calls in the US for re-arming the jihadists. The “eminent scholar” Anthony Cordesman of CSIS just advised to re-up such supplies to al-Qaeda aligned Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the former Jabhat Al-Nusra Front, which has controlled large areas of Idlib since 2015, acting as de facto governmental authority, facilitating trade across the long border with Turkey and organising so-called aid deliveries.

    But any US attack on Syrian and Russian forces in Idlib would likely escalate into a conflict between nuclear powers.

     

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