WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert affirmed on Tuesday that the Kurdish enclave of Afrin falls within the scope of the Syrian ceasefire that was unanimously approved by the UN Security Council on Saturday.
However, Nauert was unwilling to say that Turkey’s military offensive on Afrin—ongoing for over a month—was a violation of Security Council Resolution 2401, although given what she had just said—the ceasefire applies to “the entirety of Syria”—it certainly seemed to be.
Rather, responding to journalists’ questions, Nauert said only, “I would encourage Turkey to go back and read this resolution.”
Nauert then quoted a key part of the resolution, which “demands that all parties cease hostilities without delay.”
The resolution identifies certain groups against which the call for a cessation of hostilities does not apply. They are “the [Islamic State (IS)], al Qaida, and al Nusrah Front, and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with al Qaida and [IS] and other terror groups, as designated by the Security Council,” she read.
“I think the resolution was clear here in naming exactly which groups are considered to be exempt from the ceasefire,” Nauert said.
Turkey’s target in Syria—the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish force which has been America’s most effective partner in fighting IS in Syria—is, thus, not named in the UN resolution as a group to which the ceasefire does not apply.
Yet Nauert declined to state outright that Turkey’s assault on the YPG in Afrin violates the ceasefire resolution.
That is almost certainly due to the understandings that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reached two weeks ago in Ankara, during a three hour long meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The US has, evidently, decided that restoring good relations with its NATO ally requires far-reaching concessions, and that limits US public criticism of Ankara, including in Afrin.
The issue of Baghdad’s treatment of the Kurds also arose during the briefing.
Since Thursday, the Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, Masrour Barzani, has held a series of meetings in Washington. US officials have been positive and encouraging, affirming their support for a strong, united Kurdistan within a federal, democratic Iraq, according to the Iraqi constitution.
However, on Monday, Baghdad suddenly announced another extension of the ban on international flights to airports in the Kurdistan Region. It is to last until May 31.
The US, France, Britain, Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands have all publicly urged Baghdad to open the airports.
Indeed, following the Munich Security Conference in mid-February, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi told German television that talks on lifting the ban were in the final stages.
Yet this has now proven an empty promise. Asked by Kurdistan 24 to comment on Baghdad’s decision to extend the airport ban, Nauert demurred.
We want the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi Government “to sit down and have talks,” Nauert said. “We want them to resolve their remaining differences,” and we believe “they have to swiftly compromise.”
Although Erbil has accepted Baghdad’s terms and Abadi himself had just said that the ban would be lifted shortly, Nauert spoke as if both sides were equally culpable.
It is an open secret that the US has pinned its hopes in Iraq on Abadi winning the May 12 elections and is reluctant to take issue with him publicly.
However, critics suggest that has essentially given the Iraqi leader a blank check, which severely limits the US ability to influence developments in the country.
Chancellor Barzani told Kurdistan 24 that he believes the ongoing, collective punishment of the Kurdistan Region is due to Abadi’s belief that it will enhance his election prospects.