Turkey and US see eye to eye on Iranian exit from Syria - U.S. senior officials

Turkey wants Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces to exit Syria, said U.S. senior officials on the background call to Washington reporters on Friday morning, 

The call was made in the run-up to Secretary of State's Mike Pompeo’s trip to eight Gulf and Arab states, but it also touched on Syria and how the U.S. withdrawal decision will be received during the visit.

Pomepo's destinations include Amman, Jordan; Cairo, Egypt; Manama, Bahrain; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; Doha, Qatar; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Muscat, Oman; and Kuwait City, Kuwait.

One of the senior U.S. officials on the call said the United States currently had no "plans to facilitate Arab forces into Syria."

It had been reported that forces from Arab countries could replace the U.S. withdrawing forces in north-east Syria. 

Senior officials once again repeated that the U.S. administration had "no withdrawal timetable from Syria."

Pompeo, in an interview with American news organization Newsmax on Thursday, said the same, adding that one of his administration's goal was to protect Kurds from being "slaughtered" by the Turks.

One senior unnamed U.S. official argued Turkey and the United States saw eye to eye when it came to Iran's "malign" influence in the northern Middle East, and added: “Turkey shares our concerns about the destabilizing Iranian influence across the region. This is nothing new to them."

A second U.S. senior official followed up with the same sentiment that the Turkish officials are very adamant about Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces (IRGC) leaving Syria. The official said that throughout the Syrian conflict "(the) Turkish side have talked to us and made it clear that they see the expansion of Iranian malign influence in Syria as a highly destabilizing dynamic in the northern Middle East, and it poses risks for Turkish security."

"(Turkey) expressed repeatedly that they agree with us that the IRGC should exit Syria, that it is in no one's interest for the IRGC to build up a power projection platform in Syria to use against Syria's neighbors," he said.

Turkish officials including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have spoken strongly against the new U.S. economic sanctions against Iran in recent months. 

When the United States put a new round of sanctions on Iranian financial activities and oil and gas sales into force on Nov. 5, Turkey was one of eight countries granted an exemption for six months.

Exemption or not, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told his followers in November last year, his country would continue its energy trade with Iran, one of Turkey’s top suppliers. Erdogan many times mentioned that without Iranian gas, Turkish people could be freezing.

Erdoğan in late December during Iranian President Ruhani's visit to Ankara said that Turkey did not approve of U.S. sanctions on Iran, as they would lead to destabilisation in the region.

"The U.S. decision on the sanctions against Iran puts regional safety and stability in danger," Erdoğan said. "I want to stress once more that we, Turkey, do not support these decisions."

Despite the Turkish officials' rhetoric, Turkey’s largest oil importer, Tupraş, reportedly began reducing purchases of Iranian oil in May last year, when the United States announced it was renewing sanctions on Iran.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.