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Trump Administration Identifies 3 Syrian Priorities, Including ‘Curtailing’ Iran’s Influence

While the US has long been critical of the growing influence of Iran in Syria, they have not developed a clear strategy for the country writes Asharq al-Awsat
Trump Administration Identifies 3 Syrian Priorities, Including ‘Curtailing’ Iran’s Influence

Washington’s priorities in Syria are now almost defined with the completion of President Donald Trump’s appointment of his specialized team for the war-torn country.

The US administration is seeking to achieve three top priorities: defeating ISIS and preventing its reappearance in the northeast of Syria; curtailing the Iranian influence and working with Moscow through dialogue and pressure to reach a political solution in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.

US experts, including the new envoy to Syria, have written a list of proposals featuring the establishment of an air and land embargo in eastern Syria in order to reach these goals.

Iran’s role will prevail over talks between US National Security Adviser John Bolton and his Russian counterpart, Nikolay Patrushev, in Geneva on Thursday, following Bolton’s return from Israel. But Moscow is still pursuing other tracks in parallel with the Geneva negotiations: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit Russia on Friday to discuss the fate of Idlib and the isolation of Al-Nusra Front, ahead of the Russian-Turkish-Iranian summit in Tehran on September 7-8.

All these talks are expected to establish for an international-regional platform that will allow UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura to proceed with the formation of the Constitutional Commission and host a meeting of the representatives of the three countries that are sponsoring the Astana process (Russia, Iran, and Turkey) in Geneva next month.

However, Washington still studies that path with skepticism and dissociation – a fact that was highlighted at a meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and De Mistura in Washington last week, when the US side refused to make any contribution to the reconstruction of Syria (the areas under Damascus control) before the achievement of a political breakthrough under the Geneva process.

Pompeo’s position came in line with the changes that took place in the US team in the Syrian-Iranian file. After lengthy consultations, Trump’s administration decided to appoint the official in the National Security Council for the Middle East Joel Rubin, as Assistant Undersecretary of State to join David Schenker, instead of David Satterfield, who is waiting to be appointed as ambassador to Ankara.

The surprise was the appointment of former US ambassador to Baghdad and Ankara James Jeffrey as the State Secretary’s representative for engagement in Syria.

Schenker, Jeffrey and others will join the US administration, coming from the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy (WINEP) in the US capital.

Jeffrey is known for his hostility towards Iran, and his position was clear when he expressed his rejection of the US withdrawal from Iraq.

According to a western official, the appointments come at a time when Moscow and Washington are working on arrangements that “guarantee Israel’s security” under the agreement between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last month. This was translated into the return of Syrian government forces to the Golan Heights, the activation of the disengagement agreement and Israel’s acquisition of a green light from Putin to strike Iran’s infrastructure in Syria.

Washington’s ideas now appear clear in a paper prepared by a group of experts, including the new US envoy to Syria at WINEP on November 11.

The recommendations entitled “Towards a New Policy in Syria,” noted that the imposition of sanctions and a no-fly zone in northern Syria would deprive the Assad regime and Iranian forces of access to supplies. At the same time, Tehran’s ability to provide support to the Syrian regime will be reduced by the US policy of increased pressure on the regime.

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