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US did not make any political promises to the YPG, says ex-envoy to Syria

US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey answers questions at House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, şn Washington, United States on 22 May 2019. [Yasin Öztürk - Anadolu Agency]
Former US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey in Washington, US on 22 May 2019 [Yasin Öztürk/Anadolu Agency]

The United States did not make any political promises to the Kurdish militia the Peoples' Protection Unit (YPG) despite backing it throughout the Syrian conflict, according to former US envoy to Syria James Jeffrey.

In an interview with the Anadolu Agency (AA) yesterday, Jeffrey said that tensions between the US and Turkey had largely cooled down following an intense period over the past few years, even though the relationship has not yet been repaired.

Among the various issues that strained those relations was the US' backing and arming of the Kurdish militias in Syria such as the YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Turkey accuses of being linked to the terror organisation the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). It sees those militias in Syria, therefore, as a threat to its national security.

Jeffrey, who served as the US envoy during that period under the administration of former President Donald Trump, maintains the stance that support was given to the militias only to counter Daesh at the time. "The reason that we went there was Daesh, which posed a threat not only to Syria, Turkey, and Iraq but also to the whole region and even Europe. And, our only partner to fight Daesh on the field was the YPG," he stated.

OPINION: What is behind the US' support of the YPG?

He added that during that cooperation with the YPG, the US kept open communication with Turkey throughout and did not make any political promises to the militia, referring to concerns that there may have been guarantees of potential autonomous statehood and further support for the Kurds.

"We told it to them many times. Even when contacting their autonomous systems, we were very cautious. If you are Syrian, there will be a political process under the supervision of the United Nations and some conditions including the new constitution." That framework, he claimed, made it clear to the Kurdish militias that "Whatever you do, you should do it with the Syrian opposition and the Assad regime. This is your job, not ours. We told it clearly to everyone."

Jeffrey also touched on the issue of the Russian S-400 missile defence system that Turkey purchased in 2019, and which was one of the factors that severely strained its relationship with the US and led to its removal from the joint F-35 fighter jet programme and the imposition of sanctions on Ankara.

"From Turkey's perspective, it is a matter of sovereignty," he acknowledged. "Why can't a sovereign country buy weapons from another country? However, this is a violation according to U.S. law…At the same time, it is a threat against one of our most important military and diplomatic programs. Therefore, I think the best thing to do for now is to limit the damage."

Despite the relationship between the US and Turkey continuing to be relatively strained and unclear under the new administration of President Joe Biden, Jeffrey predicted that the trajectory of the relationship will become clearer within the next six months.

OPINION: Assessing the threat that Syria's Kurds pose to Turkey and the US

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