WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – The US welcomes the results of the recent summit on the future of Syria, involving the leaders of Turkey, France, Germany, and Russia, State Department Deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said on Thursday, as he responded to a question from Kurdistan 24.
The “quartet summit” was held Saturday in Istanbul, and Palladino applauded its “specific commitment to launch the [Syrian] constitutional committee by the end of the year.”
The UN’s Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who will be stepping down soon, originally proposed forming a committee that represented three elements to draw up a new Syrian constitution: the opposition; the regime; and civil society, including experts on the country.
Turkey, France, and Germany all seek change in Syria’s political leadership, as does the US. Russia, however, does not, and it is dragging its feet on the formation of a constitutional committee.
Although the US was not present in Istanbul, Palladino emphasized that Washington had “consulted extensively with the representatives of all four participants” prior to Saturday’s meeting.
He also noted that Amb. James Jeffrey, the US Special Representative for Syrian Engagement, was currently in Europe, and on Monday, Jeffrey had participated in a meeting of the “small group” on Syria that includes France, Germany, Britain, and the US, as well as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
Palladino reiterated that the US goal remains the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which was adopted unanimously in December 2015, shortly after Russia’s military intervention in Syria began.
At the time, it appeared that the Syrian regime was on the verge of collapse and the resolution envisaged a change in government through “free and fair elections.”
But the regime no longer seems at risk of collapse. Whether it, along with its allies in Moscow and Tehran, will accept genuinely free and fair elections is very questionable.
The US, and its allies, for their part, have said they will not contribute any funds for Syrian reconstruction as long as Bashar al-Assad remains in power.
Idlib, the last rebel-held province in Syria, is another critical issue. Until mid-September, it seemed the regime was about to launch a very bloody offensive, quite possibly using chemical weapons that would, almost certainly, have led to a humanitarian catastrophe.
However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, backed by a reinvigorated US policy on Syria, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sep. 17 in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi and the two leaders reached a new understanding on Idlib, averting that scenario.
Hence, Palladino also welcomed “the endorsement” at Saturday’s Istanbul summit of the “Idlib deconfliction agreement between Turkey and Russia.”
The Syrian civil war has proven incredibly brutal. In 2011, when the conflict began, Syria had a population around 22 million. According to UN estimates, half the people of Syria have been displaced—some six million internally and another five million as refugees outside the country.
The large number of Syrian refugees has had political consequences for Europe. Along with terrorism from the so-called Islamic State (IS), the refugees have pushed European politics to the right, leading to the rise of anti-immigrant political parties, such as Alternative for Germany—which took in nearly one million refugees in 2015, most from Syria.
And the refugees have become political tools. To a significant extent, Turkey has the ability to control their exodus to Europe. A European diplomat recently suggested to Kurdistan 24 that Erdogan deliberately uses that as leverage, to extract concessions from major European powers, like France and Germany.
Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat and now Director of External Relations for People Demand Change, a Washington-based group, suggested last month at a Hudson Institute seminar that Putin had wanted a bloody offensive in Idlib because the ensuing refugee crisis would further push European politics to the right, which is sympathetic to Russia.
Syria’s political future has important implications for the country’s Kurdish population. Until recently, it seemed the Trump administration would not become significantly engaged on the issue.
But that changed in mid-August, when Jeffrey was made Representative for Syria Engagement and Col.Joel Rayburn (US Army, Ret.) was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Levant Affairs and Special Envoy for Syria.
The appointments signaled a new US resolve to become actively engaged in shaping Syria’s political future.
Senior figures in the Trump administration, including the President himself, are favorably inclined toward the Kurds. Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed Syria’s Kurds as “great partners,” affirming that we will “make sure that they have a seat at the table” in negotiating Syria’s future.
However, Erdogan adamantly maintains that America’s Kurdish partners in fighting IS in Syria, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), are “terrorists,” and in the week following the quartet summit, Turkey has stepped up its rhetoric against them, while it has begun shelling Kurdish areas east of the Euphrates River, where US Special Forces are embedded with the YPG.
Thus, as major powers, in and outside of the region, compete to advance their vision for Syria’s future, the outcome remains uncertain, although one thing is clear: the US is far more committed than it was just a few months ago.
Editing by Nadia Riva