U.S. seeks shifting to Turkey-first policy in Syria - analysis

A U.S. delegation’s visit to Ankara this week is a sign of efforts in Washington to pivot the United States back to a Turkey-first foreign policy in Syria, said analyst Seth J. Frantzman in the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

The delegation headed by James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria, arrived in Ankara on Tuesday for talks over the escalating tensions in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday expressed his condolences to the families of the five Turkish soldiers killed in Idlib by the Russia-backed Syrian army’s shelling.

“U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Jeffrey have been seeking to pivot the United States back to a Turkey-first foreign policy in regards to Syria, to slowly jettison parts of what they see as the problematic Kurdish region of eastern Syria and get online with big power politics to confront the Russians and Iranians,” Frantzman said. 

Ankara has been accusing the United States of ignoring security threats against Turkey by providing support to Kurdish militia in northeast Syria, which Turkey sees as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is also designated as a terrorist organisation by Washington.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria forms the backbone of U.S.-led coalition forces fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and the United States plans to spare $200 million of funds in 2020 to be spent for the training of groups that support the struggle against ISIS in northeast Syria. 

While some in the United States see Kurdish fighters in Syria as helpful against ISIS, other U.S. policymakers “see the Syrian Kurds as spoiling U.S. relations with Turkey and want to get rid of them as a partner so that Turkey can be leveraged against Iran,” Frantzman said. 

“The U.S. delegation to Turkey this week is a sign of commitment,” the analyst said. “In addition to Pompeo’s support on Twitter, Jeffrey and Syria envoy Joel Rayburn and Richard Outzen, advisor for Syrian engagement, are involved in talks with Turkey.”

“Only a phone call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is missing to show how serious the United States is,” he said. Erdoğan told reporters on Wednesday that such a phone call could happen at any minute.