Pom­peo ‘op­ti­mistic’ about Syria’s Kurds

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emi­rates — Wash­ing­ton’s top diplo­mat said on Satur­day he was “op­ti­mistic” a way could be found to pro­tect Syr­ian Kurds while al­low­ing Turks to “de­fend their coun­try from ter­ror­ists” fol­low­ing a US pullout from Syria.

“We are con­fi­dent we can achieve an out­come that achieves both of those,” US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo told jour­nal­ists in Abu Dhabi, fol­low­ing a phone call with his Turk­ish coun­ter­part.

The UAE is one of his stops in a re­gional tour aimed at re­as­sur­ing al­lies af­ter a shock De­cem­ber an­nounce­ment by US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump that US troops would be with­drawn from Syria.

Pom­peo’s re­marks fol­low ten­sions between the United States and Turkey over the fate of Wash­ing­ton’s Syr­ian Kur­dish al­lies in the fight against the Is­lamic State group.

Turkey had re­acted an­grily to sug­ges­tions that Trump’s plan to with­draw troops was con­di­tional on the safety of the US-backed Kur­dish fight­ers, seen by the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment as ter­ror­ists.

US-led op­er­a­tions against IS in Syria have been spear­headed on the ground by the Kur­dish-dom­i­nated Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces.

Ankara sees the back­bone of that al­liance, the Kur­dish Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (also known as YPG), as a ter­ror­ist group linked to the Kur­dis­tan Worker’s Party (also known as PKK) which has fought a decades­long in­sur­gency against the Turk­ish state.

Pom­peo said that Wash­ing­ton rec­og­nized “the Turk­ish peo­ple’s right and (Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip) Er­do­gan’s right to de­fend their coun­try from ter­ror­ists”.

But, he added, “we also know that those fight­ing along­side us for all this time de­serve to be pro­tected as well”. Pom­peo said he had spo­ken to Turkey’s For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu.

“Many de­tails (are) still to be worked out but I’m op­ti­mistic that we can achieve a good out­come,” he said.

Trump’s an­nounce­ment last month prompted the YPG to call on Syr­ian gov­ern­ment troops to de­ploy along­side their own forces in the north to help counter a po­ten­tial Turk­ish of­fen­sive.

A spokesman for the US mil­i­tary said on Fri­day it had be­gun “the process of our de­lib­er­ate with­drawal from Syria”.

But US de­fense of­fi­cials quickly sought to clar­ify that while gear was be­ing pulled out, “we are not with­draw­ing troops at this stage”.

Syria’s con­flict be­gan in 2011 with anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions that were bru­tally crushed, spark­ing a com­plex war in­volv­ing mul­ti­ple for­eign mili­tias and ji­hadist groups, as well as re­gional and in­ter­na­tional pow­ers in­clud­ing the US.

The with­drawal an­nounce­ment has also sparked con­cerns among Arab states and Is­rael that it could open the door to grow­ing Ira­nian in­flu­ence.

Pom­peo has pledged to “ex­pel ev­ery last Ira­nian boot” from Syria, and on Satur­day sought to down­play the im­pact of the US pullout on this goal.

“The fact that a cou­ple of thou­sands of uni­formed per­son­nel in Syria will be with­draw­ing is a tac­ti­cal change,” he said.

“It doesn’t ma­te­ri­ally al­ter our ca­pac­ity to con­tinue to per­form the mil­i­tary ac­tions that we need to per­form.”

On Sun­day, Pom­peo ar­rived Qatar and signed sev­eral agree­ments with Qatari of­fi­cials.

He thanked Qatar for host­ing US forces at Al-Udeid Air Base, home to the US mil­i­tary’s Cen­tral Com­mand for­ward head­quar­ters.

Qatar’s For­eign Min­is­ter Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man Al Thani said his coun­try’s re­la­tion­ship with the US “has en­abled us to con­front so many re­gional and in­ter­na­tional chal­lenges”.

Wash­ing­ton is set to con­vene an in­ter­na­tional sum­mit in Poland next month fo­cus­ing on sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East.


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