Laurie Mylroie -WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) — The US is continuing its discussions about a safe zone in northeastern Syria, Amb. James Jeffrey, Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, told journalists on Tuesday.
Jeffrey was in Cairo, where he has held talks with senior Egyptian and Arab League officials, as well as members of the Syrian opposition. He spoke to reporters in a telephone press briefing.
Asked, “Do you see a long-term reconciliation agreement between the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) and Turkey,” Jeffrey explained, “We’re not trying to reconcile Turkey and the SDF”—which is led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG.)
“What we’re trying to do is to continue our campaign to defeat ISIS in the northeast of Syria,” Jeffrey added, “where the SDF is our partner in this fight and has been a very effective partner.”
He described the two conflicting perspectives that Washington is trying to reconcile as it plans the withdrawal of most US forces there.
“We understand Turkey’s concerns about the origins of the SDF and its ties with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party).” But we also “understand the concerns of many people in [Syria’s] northeast of Turkey coming in militarily,” Jeffrey said.
The safe zone is, thus, intended to address those opposite concerns, he explained, as he outlined the status of the ongoing discussions.
The safe zone would run from the Euphrates River to the Iraqi border, Jeffrey said. It “would involve a withdrawal of the YPG, which is the core military focus of the SDF, some distance back from the border,” he continued.
It would also involve “the destruction of military fortifications” in that area and “a withdrawal of heavy weapons even further back,” Jeffrey added.
Finally, it would involve the “monitoring of the situation there by the US and Turkey.”
Those are the “basic set of principles” and “everybody that we deal with is agreed” on them, is how Jeffrey summarized the discussions.
Notably, it was unclear if his phrase—“everybody that we deal with”—included the leadership of the SDF. If it does, it would suggest that the US is involved in what are, in effect, indirect talks between Turkey and the SDF.
Jeffrey also listed two issues that “we’re still debating”: how deep the safe zone should be and what Turkey’s role in Syria should be, and he concluded, “We haven’t reached a final agreement yet.”
In the briefing, Jeffrey also described the three strategic US goals in Syria, the first of which is “the enduring defeat of ISIS and its allies.”
The second objective is “the withdrawal of all Iranian-commanded forces, including Lebanese Hezbollah,” and the third is a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
He condemned the Syrian regime and Russia for their “indiscriminate bombing attacks” against civilians in Idlib and called for a return to the ceasefire agreement that Turkey and Russia reached last September.
The US also announced on Tuesday sanctions on the Syrian businessman, Samer Foz, and fifteen other individuals and entities linked to him.
As the Treasury Department’s announcement explained, the regime has regularly seized the property of Syrians who have fled their homes and then it has turned over the land to Foz, who has proceeded to build “luxury developments” in the name of Syrian reconstruction.
The European Union sanctioned Foz, his partners, and related entities in January.
Editing by Nadia Riva