The United States is shifting its policy in Syria to counter Iran instead of Daesh, as the territorial control of the terrorist organization is diminishing in the country, experts said on Thursday.Speaking at an event organized by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) in Washington D.C., titled "The Shifting U.S. Policy on Syria," Andrew Tabler, the Martin J. Gross fellow in the Geduld Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the change in U.S. policy is due to the territorial control of Daesh diminishing and the increased presence of Iran in Syria.
Tabler also expressed that with respect to policy change, James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria, has been able to engage with the military and various agencies to address the concerns of the U.S. and conduct a new policy. Recently, Jeffrey had said that the U.S. will stay in Syria as long as its rival Iran maintains its presence, but the U.S. role will not necessarily involve troops. Jeffrey's remarks were made in an effort to clarify recent comments by senior officials who appeared to suggest that troops would stay indefinitely to counter Iran.
Hassan Hassan, Senior Research Fellow at George Washington University, stated that the U.S. has a range of policy options it could choose, depending on how deeply it wants to become entangled in Syria. Addressing the U.S. policy shift, he noted that the Bashar Assad regime does not have enough influence or power to keep Iran out of Syria.
Additionally, Tabler discussed the shared goals of Turkey and the U.S., including the enduring defeat of Daesh and a desire to have a softer ending to the Syrian conflict.
"Furthermore, both countries hope to address the concern for Iran's presence in Syria," he added. He, however, also noted that while both countries have shared concerns and goals, their current mechanisms to address these issues are different.There are several points in Syria that Turkey and the U.S. are in disagreement, particularly the attitude against the PKK's Syrian affiliate the People's Protection Units (YPG). Turkey recognizes the PKK and YPG as organically linked terrorist groups. The U.S., however, while listing the PKK as a terrorist group, has supported the YPG militarily, under the pretext of fighting Daesh. Ankara's demands that the U.S. stops arming the YPG and ensures the terrorists withdraw to the east of the Euphrates, dates back to former President Barack Obama's time in office. Though promised, the U.S. is yet to meet Ankara's demands, straining ties between the two countries.
Mona Yacoubian, Senior Adviser for Syria in the Middle East and North Africa division at the United States Institute of Peace, on the other hand, argued that the U.S. needs to engage with Turkey in order to address its policy concerns. She stated that in order for any peaceful end to be successful, countries have to use a combination of the comparative advantages of both the Astana talks and the Geneva talks.
Hassan also argued that the U.S. should consider supporting and collaborating with Turkey in order to reach its goals and bring all parties to the negotiating table.