WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – State Department Spokesperson Robert Palladino reaffirmed on Thursday Washington’s continued commitment to its allies in northeastern Syria as the US draws down its forces there.
“You remain committed to ensuring the security of the people that live in northeast Syria?” Kurdistan 24 asked.
“From the President on down, Palladino responded, “we have spoken at length to counterparts at various levels on how to proceed with the safe withdrawal of our troops, while stabilizing liberated areas” of Syria, “and we’re fully engaged on this.”
“We’ve been clear that the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) should not be engaged militarily,” Palladino continued, “and that would include the Kurdish component of the SDF.”
“As President Trump just said,” Palladino also explained, “we’re working through the course of various discussions, including senior-level meetings that took place here at the State Department on Tuesday.”
Palladino was referring to talks between US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, David Hale, and Turkey’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sedat Onal.
A rather bland, joint statement was issued after those discussions. It said the two sides had “reaffirmed the strategic importance of the US-Turkish relationship” and met in working groups “to discuss bilateral cooperation on Syria, counterterrorism,” and other issues, while they “will continue to work together to achieve further progress.”
One would scarcely know that major issues divide the US and Turkey.
Notably, Palladino twice referred to Trump’s position. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had suggested there was a significant difference between Trump’s position and that of lower level officials, describing talks with Trump as “productive and promising,” but complaining, “We are not getting the same productivity from low level diplomatic and military meetings.”
Quite possibly, Palladino’s repeated reference to the US president was intended to signal Turkey that the US did have a unified position, and no significant difference existed on this matter between Trump, on the one hand, and State Department and Pentagon officials, on the other.
Palladino’s affirmation of a continued US commitment to the Kurdish-led SDF followed Trump’s address the day before to the Ministerial conference of the Defeat-ISIS coalition, in which Trump stated, “The United States military, our Coalition partners, and the Syrian Democratic Forces have liberated virtually all of the territory previously held by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.”
Paul Davis, a former Pentagon analyst and currently a Senior Fellow at Soran University, noted to Kurdistan 24 that this was probably the first time ever that US officials in formal, high-profile settings had mentioned the SDF on two successive days, speaking positively about the organization.
“This could be a turning point in terms of solidifying a US commitment to the SDF,” Davis told Kurdistan 24, even as he also suggested that Turkey “would not take it lightly” and “was likely to remain a significant problem.”
Ilham Ahmed, co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the SDF’s political wing, has been visiting Washington for some two weeks. Her work may well be paying off. Amberin Zaman, a senior correspondent for Al-Monitor, suggested that she would soon have “a high level” meeting at the White House, as well as other meetings at the State Department and Pentagon.
Editing by Nadia Riva