TUE 26 - 3 - 2019
Date: Nov 8, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
Assad’s removal not part of US policy: envoy
Gemma Fox| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The removal of Syrian President Bashar Assad from power is not a part of U.S. policy in Syria, but Iran-backed forces leaving the country entirely is a priority, the U.S. envoy to Syria said Wednesday.

“In terms of the Assad regime, our policy is not focused on personalities per se, but on what the Syrian government does,” U.S. Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey told a group of reporters via a teleconference.

But for the U.S. to work with Syria, Jeffrey stressed that the Assad’s regime must “not provide a base for Iranian projection,” which he said is linked to the U.S. objective of defeating Daesh. He did not rule out the prospect of extending the deployment of American troops to achieve this end.

“We need a Syrian government that does not drive half its population away, which is what this one has done; does not wage criminal war on its own population; and does not use chemical weapons.”

“If you show us a Syrian government that meets these criteria, then that would be a Syrian government we could work with,” he said.

In terms of moving closer to a solution to the 7-year-old conflict, he said the U.S. continued to support United Nations Resolution 2254, which calls for a nationwide cease-fire and a political settlement.

Since the Astana talks in January last year, Russia and Iran, both Assad allies, as well as rebel-backer Turkey, have all also supported the resolution as the legal process for ending the war.

“The end line is having Iranian-commanded forces departed from the entirety of Syria,” and is a “parallel objective” for the U.S. to defeating Daesh (ISIS), Jeffrey said.

He claimed Iran’s encroachment into “Arab areas of Syria and Iraq” was largely responsible for Daesh’s success, with the Sunni populations of the countries seeing “no alternative to push back Iran than to throw support behind ISIS.”

Tehran’s critical support has helped regime forces regain control over vast swaths of territory once held by opposition groups, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said Iran will stay in Syria for as long as Assad wants it there.

The envoy added that he hoped Russia would continue to allow Israel to strike Iranian targets in Syria, despite Moscow’s delivery of an S-300 air defense system to Assad’s government last month.

“Russia has been permissive, in consultation with the Israelis, about Israeli strikes against Iranian targets inside Syria. We certainly hope that that permissive approach will continue,” he said.

Russia’s intervention in the Syrian conflict in 2015 and continued support in the way of airstrikes is seen as having tipped the war in Assad’s favor.

Moscow supplied the S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Syria in October after holding Israel responsible for the downing of a Russian military jet by Syrian air defenses, which were responding to an Israeli airstrike.

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