The US plans to maintain its military presence in Northeast Syria, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State David M. Satterfield stated on Monday during a briefing in Brussels. “We do not believe that Russian involvement in this conflict serves any useful purpose,” he said. “It is an external meddling which we hope comes to a close as rapidly as possible. It’s opportunistic. It attempts to capitalize upon gray areas, conflict areas, and little good is served by it.”
“The President has said that US forces will remain in Northeast Syria. That all US forces are not withdrawing. Jim Jeffrey, our Special Representative, who is in continuing discussions with the Syrian Democratic Forces, with Turkish authorities, very much hopes that an arrangement can be reached which respects and assures Turkey’s legitimate security interests along its border,” the diplomat noted.
He added that the US presence in Syria “preserves the possibility of a continuing and decisive stabilization effort and enduring campaign against the remnants of ISIS.
Below is a full rush transcript of the press conference by Acting Assistant Secretary David M. Satterfield , Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. State Department.
Ambassador Satterfield: Twice a year the United States holds this dialogue with the EU External Action Service. Our discussions today covered, as they usually do, the gamut of regional issues, in particular places where there is a considerable amount of dynamism. We discussed the situation in Libya, Algeria, the Yemen situation, Saudi and GCC developments, Iraq, Iran, and of course Syria and hopes between the U.S. and the EU that common efforts could work in many of these problem areas towards a resolution of supported peace, security, and stability.
Media: I would like to ask you to elaborate on your observations regarding the local elections process in Turkey ? How would you assess Turkish democracy?
Ambassador Satterfield: I am not yet in a position of responsibility for Turkey, but I will repeat the remarks I made before the Senate last week.
We believe that free, fair and transparent elections and electoral processes are a fundamental of any democracy. Turkey is a democracy. We look to and like the rest of the world are watching closely how events unfold.
Media: Do you feel that Secretary Pompeo in his statement to the Senate to an open conflict with Iran? And that Syria might be the battleground for that?
Ambassador Satterfield: If you are making reference to the recent designation of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, that was not a harbinger of conflict or war with Iran. That was another step taken in what has been a consistent and extremely transparent campaign by the United States to constrain the ability of terrorist organizations, and that is how we view the IRGC, from continuing their deadly and disruptive work. But no, this has nothing to do with a pretext for or a lead to conflict.
Media: How do you think about the situation on the ground, that [weapons search] could happen in the coming days? Can you imagine there would be any peace on the ground between the Kurds and Turkey in Syria?
Ambassador Satterfield: Your first question. We’re following events in Libya closely. The “we” is the European Union, the United States, the international community. We strongly support the work of UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame to try and bring about a political deal, political reconciliation there. We’ve watched with concern the mounting civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure, particularly over the last several days. We call on all sides to consider very carefully how their actions impact upon civilians, and we look to the resumption of the political process.
The President has said that U.S. forces will remain in Northeast Syria. That all U.S. forces are not withdrawing. Jim Jeffrey, our Special Representative, who is in continuing discussions with the Syrian Democratic Forces, with Turkish authorities, very much hopes that an arrangement can be reached which respects and assures Turkey’s legitimate security interests along its border as Turkey defends itself against what is a quite genuine threat of terror, that assures as the President of the United States has stated, that those who partnered with us, died for us in the fight against ISIS are not threatened, that a vacuum is not created in Northeast Syria into which by Russian, Iranian and Syrian regime forces moving. And finally, that preserves the possibility of a continuing and decisive stabilization effort and enduring campaign against the remnants of ISIS. That all those objectives can be reached. Those objectives require a continued U.S. presence, albeit at the diminished levels which the President has spoken of.
Media: Netanyahu’s victory and his last-minute notion that he was going to connect the West Bank or parts of the West Bank. And I wanted to get you to say that the U.S. administration is not going to accept that, which would be helpful. I’d also ask you whether you think there’s any prospects of the United States restoring its contributions to UNRWA and dealing again with the Palestinians as a real people?
Ambassador Satterfield: First, I will not attempt to parse or explain or elaborate upon Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments in the final moments of the electoral campaign.
With respect to U.S. assistance efforts, whether directed at UNRWA or U.S. direct bilateral assistance. Steve, much of that depends upon circumstances. We have said repeatedly that we can contemplate circumstances in which U.S. assistance is in fact restored and serves what we hope can be a useful purpose, reinforcing progress towards peace, but that very much depends upon the position taken by the Palestinian Authority, and in the case of UNRWA, it depends upon a number of factors including fundamental and so far not taken basic reforms in the way UNRWA does business, in how UNRWA defines its serviced community. All of those steps would have to proceed any possible decision by the U.S. on whether assistance was restored.
Media: Question will be on Libya. Specifically on the role of France. Did you debate the issue in your talks with the External Action Service and did you debate the issue more specifically with French diplomats during your trip to Europe? Thank you very much.
Ambassador Satterfield: I will be traveling to Paris subsequently, but the discussions today were with the External Action Service on behalf of the EU as a whole.
I’m obviously not going to comment on positions attributed to another government. What I will speak for is the U.S. government. We are concerned at the mounting civilian casualties. We are concerned at damage to vital civilian infrastructure. What Libya requires is a political arrangement, an arrangement reached as soon as possible which stabilizes the country in a lasting fashion and which resolves what has been an increasingly untenable situation building over some years now of multiple militia control of resources, security, political power. That is no formula that serves the broader interests of Libya and Libyans or of the region, or of Europe and the United States.
Media: on Libya, we have the U.S. calling for a political solution that American allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are encouraging Hifter defenses and encouraging them to drive on into Tripoli. Are these allies really a source for stability in the region when they’re encouraging this kind of thing in Libya And on Middle East peace, does the U.S. still support a two-state solution?
Ambassador Satterfield: The United States will support whatever solution the two parties directly involved — Israel and the Palestinians — can agree to. That is what matters.
On your first question, again we want to see a resolution in Libya as rapidly as possible which provides for a more enduring stability and security for that country, for its neighbors; that allows Libya to once again develop as a nation in a positive direction. And how that is best achieved, we believe, needs to come under the auspices of an agreed political resolution between the key parties involved.
Media: What would your message be to our allies, Egypt and UAE, who are supporting General Hifter quite vocally, putting their support behind the General. If you had a direct message for them, what would it be?
Ambassador Satterfield: I believe they, like we, wish to see an end to instability in Libya. The critical question all of us must address, not uniquely Saudi Arabia or Libya, but the UN efforts, the European parties involved in this conflict or suffering from this conflict, is what kind of solution is likely to be most enduring.
Media: How important is Italy’s role in relation to the Libyan crisis, and what are the relations between U.S., EU, and Italy in relation to the Libya crisis?
Ambassador Satterfield: We have very close dialogue and coordination with all of the critical European states who are involved here, and that certainly includes Italy. We’re very much aware of the special concerns Italy has because of its proximity to the Libyan littoral. We respect that. And we know Italy wants an enduring solution that ensures that security in Libya and/or Libya’s borders is established and maintained. That is a goal which the United States supports strongly as well.
Media: What does the U.S. think of Russian involvement in the Libyan conflict?
Ambassador Satterfield: We do not believe that Russian involvement in this conflict serves any useful purpose. It is an external meddling which we hope comes to a close as rapidly as possible. It’s opportunistic. It attempts to capitalize upon gray areas, conflict areas, and little good is served by it.
Ambassador Satterfield: I appreciate very much the questions that were asked. I will leave you with one final comment.
When I speak of measures that assure lasting security and stability, whether we’re discussing the situation in Libya, Syria, or Yemen — three critical crisis areas for the world, for the Middle East, North Africa, the role of the United Nations in all of these conflict areas in helping to advance a political frame for resolution, a political process for resolution, is absolutely vital. And my government supports strongly the UN Special Envoys working in each of those critical areas. Their role is invaluable and irreplaceable.