Pompeo: U.S. Will Ensure Kurds ‘Have a Seat at the Table’ to Negotiate Syria’s Future

Syria's Kurdish minority, hailed as an indispensable Western ally during the war against the Islamic State group, faces hard bargaining with Damascus to save its hard-won autonomy
AFP/Delil souleiman
Washington, DC

The Trump administration is “now driving to make sure” America’s “great partners” in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), the Syrian Kurds, participate in discussions to determine the future of Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week.

Pompeo’s comments came amid stalled negotiations between dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that controls most of northern Syria.

While addressing the annual Jewish Institute for National Security of America awards dinner, Pompeo declared:

We’ve worked closely with the Syrian Kurds now for my entire time in service in this administration. They have been great partners. We are now driving to make sure that they have a seat at the table. The political process…the reason it hasn’t made progress is because we’ve demanded that every element in Syria gets an opportunity to be part of that future government, and in the absence of that and in the absence of their representation, we won’t participate in what will be a big check that someone’s going to have to write to fix the situation in Syria, and the Syrian Kurds will surely be part of that.

Echoing other U.S. officials, Pompeo indicated the United States would remain in Syria until key political objectives are achieved.

The secretary explained:

ISIS, though not completely snuffed out, has been beaten into a shadow of its former self. And these changing circumstances have required the reassessment of America’s mission in Syria. Defeating ISIS, which was once our primary focus, continues to be a top priority, but it will now be joined by two other mutually reinforcing objectives. These include a peaceful and political resolution to the Syrian conflict and the removal of all Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from Syria.

The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political wing of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has welcomed the Trump administration’s new position in Syria, Kurdistan 24 reported.

YPG fighters lead and make up the majority of U.S.-allied SDF, a Kurdish-Arab alliance.

Although the Syrian regime had expressed a willingness to discuss the possibility of allowing the Kurds to keep their autonomy, negotiations with Russian and Iranian-backed dictator Bashar al-Assad have hit a roadblock.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem recently argued that U.S. military presence in Kurdish-held northern Syria hinders negotiations between the Kurds and the Assad regime.
The Syrian Kurds want Assad to recognize their autonomous region in the north.

Support from Russia and Iran has allowed the dictator to gain control of more territory than any other warring party in Syria.

“Today the Syrian conflict is reaching a new juncture. Assad has tightened his grip thanks to Russia, Iran, and other regional actors,” Pompeo acknowledged.

U.S. support for the YPG in the fight against ISIS has strained America’s relationship with its NATO ally Turkey.

Ankara considers the YPG to be an affiliate of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which both Turkey and the United States have designated as a terrorist organization.

The U.S. has tried to play a balancing act, refusing to provide direct assistance to the Kurds when Turkey pushed them out of Syria’s Afrin.

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