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Donald Trump Must Talk to Russia and Syria If He Wants U.S. Out of War, Allies Say

World / International Affairs / Syria / Russia

“The Russian role is as influential as the American role, so we are counting on them to reach understandings that stop the crisis and end the war,” Syrian Democratic Council co-chair Riad Darar told…

The United States has fought in Syria for more than six years, and has been involved in the country’s near-decade-long civil war for even longer. Now, ahead of a national election, the faction that helped the U.S. defeat the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) expressed to Newsweek how President Donald Trump could move forward without leaving allies behind.

The path, they said, runs through Moscow and Damascus.

For the Syrian Democratic Forces, the largely Kurdish force allied with the Pentagon in the anti-ISIS fight, talk of a speedy U.S. exit elicits immediate concerns. The formidable yet lightly-armed militia faces an outright hostile insurgency backed by Turkey on one side and the hardline central government seeking to regain control of autonomous northeastern Syria on the other.

Stuck between the two, Syrian Democratic Council co-chair Riad Darar tells Newsweek he prefers a political solution involving the latter, but believes that such an outcome “will not be possible without an American signature on it.”

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On the ground, however, it’s Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s major power partner, Russia, conducting the lion’s share of the diplomacy. Moscow’s inroads with the Syrian leader’s rivals are apparent both from its regular dealings with Ankara as well as talks with the Syrian Democratic Council, which is calling on both countries to come together for peace.

“There is no doubt that Moscow can contribute strongly to the search for a political solution with its influence on the regime in Damascus,” Darar said. “The Russian role is as influential as the American role, so we are counting on them to reach understandings that stop the crisis and end the war.”

But the onus, he said, is on Washington to offer its political support in settling the dispute with Damascus, just as the Pentagon offered its military backing in defeating ISIS.

“The American role is important,” Darar said. “Everyone is waiting for a real initiative, and the administration will not fail if it wants it. We believe there will be no solution unless America signs it, as it is a great guarantor, even if it leaves Syria to Russia, as we hear from American officials.”

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Sinam Mohammed, who serves as the Syrian Democratic Council’s representative in Washington, also conveyed the importance of the U.S. role in Syria, while at the same time noting the establishment of close relations between the semi-autonomous Syrian administration she represents and Russia.

“My administration always has and always will seek the good offices of the United States to mediate between Syria’s parties and groups,” Mohammed told Newsweek.

“The American role is indispensable,” she added. “My administration has relations with all of the major powers and Russia is one key actor. If Moscow wants to shepherd peace talks among Syria’s key players including the SDC, we would welcome that role and will go toward it.”

Thomas McClure, a researcher at the northeast Syria-based Rojava Information Center, said these positions should come as no surprise.

“Diplomatic officials in North and East Syria have long asserted that their strategy is bilateral, relying on the surety provided by the U.S. presence to strengthen their hand in negotiations with Damascus, while simultaneously placing their long-term hopes in a reconciliation with Damascus,” he told Newsweek.

Read more U.S. Troops in Syria Stuck in ‘Forgotten War’ for Oil as Russia Advances

With Trump constantly discussing withdrawal, however, both Darar and Mohammed emphasized that they still sought a lasting U.S. military presence in the absence of any political solution. Assad has vowed to retake northeastern Syria by force if diplomacy continues to prove fruitless. An array of Turkey-backed opposition groups have proven even more aggressive, looking to neutralize Kurdish forces considered terrorist organizations by Ankara.

The northern Syria standoff turned deadly last October in the wake of Trump’s decision to pull troops away from scores of outposts across northern Syria and instead focus on securing control of oil and gas reserves further east. Turkey launched an incursion that sprung forward across the border, halted only by consecutive deals struck by the U.S. and Russia with Turkey, which has patrolled alongside both forces in the region.

As Newsweek reported at the time, Kurdish officials were caught completely off guard by the White House’s decision, and scrambled to make mutual security arrangements with Damascus in the immediate aftermath.

This part of Syria, hard-won by Syrian Democratic Forces assaults into enemy territory, has once again become a battleground as Turkey continues to…

Tom O’Connor

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