US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey speaks at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, December 17, 2018. Photo: Rudaw video
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A military offensive by Turkey or any other force in northeast Syria would be “a bad idea”, the US Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey told an audience at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC on Monday.
The US diplomat also confirmed 100 Rojava Peshmerga who deployed across the Syrian border from northern Iraq on Sunday had done so with the blessing of the US and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
Asked by Rudaw’s correspondent whether there is consensus in Washington on how to respond to Turkey’s threatened offensive east of the Euphrates River, Jeffrey said the US position had been made clear to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“We think that any offensive into northeast Syria by anyone is a bad idea, and that was a position that I conveyed when I was in Ankara, that everybody from the president on down has conveyed,” said Jeffrey.
“We also understand that the Turks are concerned about the security situation in northeast Syria – they see the PYD at a minimum as a latent threat to them rather like the Israelis see Hezbollah on their border as a threat to them, rather like the Saudis see the Houthis on their border as a threat to them, and so we have to take that into account, we are taking that into account, and we’re working with the Turks,” he added.
“We believe that the situation as I said is somewhat calmer now than before.”
Rudaw also asked what role the US sees in Syria for the Rojava Peshmerga – a rival Kurdish force trained and equipped by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and backed by Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) chief Masoud Barzani, who has good relations with Turkey.
The Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – which make up the backbone of the SDF – hosted talks on Sunday with a delegation of around 100 Rojava Peshmerga brokered by the US-led Coalition.
At the meeting, the SDF command rejected a Rojava Peshmerga offer to help bolster the Syria-Turkey-Iraq borders. Although no reason was given, the PYD/YPG has long mistrusted the Barzani-backed force.
“One somewhat related thing is the Rojava Peshmerga deployment across the border. That was done with our understanding but also with the understanding of the SDF. So that is one of the various steps being taken,” Jeffrey said.
His comments confirm the meeting took place with Washington’s blessing and is just one of several efforts being made by the Coalition to help dissuade Ankara from launching its offensive.
Erdogan warned on Wednesday last week he would deploy troops east of the Euphrates to fight the YPG – Kurdish fighters that make up the backbone of the US-backed SDF
This is despite the presence of US military personnel supporting the SDF operation to clear ISIS remnants from Deir ez-Zor and areas close to the Iraqi border.
Such an offensive would cause serious problems for the NATO allies.
Turkey considers the YPG an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group fighting for greater Kurdish political and cultural rights in Turkey, which is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US, and the EU.
Turkish bombardment of YPG positions near the Syria-Turkey border in November caused the SDF to suspend its anti-ISIS operation. This forced the US to intervene diplomatically and led to the creation of US-manned outposts along the Syria-Turkey border.
Despite recent improvements in Turkey-US relations, international opposition was not enough to prevent Turkey sending troops into Afrin, northwest Syria in January this year. Turkey has also laid down roots in Idlib, where it is supporting the Syrian opposition.
In a phone call on Friday, Erdogan and US President Donald Trump agreed to have “more effective coordination” on Syria. Turkish and US forces are already carrying out joint military patrols near SDF-held Manbij on the west bank of the Euphrates.