Pull your forces out of Syria, US envoy tells Tehran

BEIRUT: Tehran must withdraw all the forces it commands in Syria, and the US will focus on pressuring Iran financially and resisting its meddling in the region, the US envoy to Syria said on Wednesday.

The 2015 nuclear deal had a malign effect on Iran’s behavior that “accelerated its activities,” ambassador James Jeffrey said.

Tehran funds and arms militias in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. “Iranians are part of the problem, not part of the solution,” the envoy said.

He said the Trump administration was now focusing on putting financial pressure on Tehran and “contesting more actively Iran’s activities, particularly in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.”

Washington this week reimposed sanctions against Iran’s vital oil-export, banking and transport industries.

Recent retreats by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting Daesh in a pocket of eastern Syria near the Iraq border were “a tactical reverse,” Jeffrey said. “It’s nothing serious. The Daesh forces there basically are still surrounded and reinforcements are coming in.”

Daesh launched several counteroffensives in recent weeks against the SDF, who have been trying to recapture the area since early September. 

“One reason for the reverse there was unusually bad and sustained weather that limited our use of air power, which is very important for our fight against Daesh,” Jeffrey said.

“As the weather changes and as additional troops are introduced, I expect the situation will change and we’ll see advances against Daesh.”

Jeffrey said that when American officials say US troops will stay in Syria, “we stay until the enduring defeat of Daesh,” with the aim of establishing the conditions so that local forces, local populations and local governments can deal with Daesh as a terrorist or insurgent movement.

“We’re not there yet,” he added.

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