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US Syria envoy to leave position when Biden takes office

US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Levant Affairs and Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn on October 29, 2019 at the United Nations Offices in Geneva [FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images]
US Deputy Assistant Secretary for Levant Affairs and Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn on October 29, 2019 at the United Nations Offices in Geneva [FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images]

The US special envoy to Syria, Joel Rayburn, is expected to step down when President-elect Joe Biden takes office, UAE news outlet the National has reported. Rayburn is only a month into his role and, according to anonymous US sources, he is leaving because Biden is planning a new and "more cohesive" team to implement his administration's Syria policy.

Over the past four years of the Trump administration, Rayburn has played a prominent role in foreign policy on Syria. He served as the National Security Council's senior director for Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon from January 2017 to July 2018, and then as the State Department's special envoy for Syria. He became the US acting special envoy for Syria and the coalition against Daesh in November, following the departure of James Jeffrey.

Rayburn confirmed that he did not choose to leave but is obliged to under the new administration headed by Biden. "This is a normal rotation of personnel that happens during a transition from one administration to another," he explained. His move comes a week after he expressed the view that US policy on Syria is unlikely to change under Biden, as it largely enjoys bipartisan support.

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Biden's choices for his administration and foreign policy team mirror those who served under former President Barack Obama, with whom Biden was Vice President. He has selected Antony Blinken as his Secretary of State, for example, and Jake Sullivan as the National Security Advisor. Both have a record of support for US political and military intervention in countries like Syria and Iraq. This has led to speculation that Biden will adopt Obama's foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East.

Former British Ambassador to Syria Peter Ford expressed his opinion in November that a Biden administration will be far more interventionist than expected.

It is predicted that Biden will increase support for the Kurdish militias such as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Peoples' Protection Units (YPG), in order to fight against Daesh remnants and counter Turkish troops.

Concerns about the new administration rose again last week when Biden announced that he has appointed former diplomat and Pentagon official Brett McGurk as his White House co-ordinator for the Middle East. McGurk is notorious for his anti-Turkey stance and for having been instrumental in US support for the Kurdish militias and other militant groups in Syria.

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