Trump administration wants ‘Iran out of Syria’ but no clear strategy yet

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Donald Trump

As it prepares for its first counter-Daesh summit on March 22-23, the Trump administration is also signaling a counter-Iran strategy in its efforts in Syria.

Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, in remarks on Wednesday night that addressed the lingering conflict in Syria said, “We have got to make sure we get Iran and their proxies out, we have got to make sure that, as we move forward, we are securing the borders for our allies as well.”

Analysts, however, point to the fact that beyond Haley’s statement, there is no clear strategy for the US government yet on how to achieve such goal.

Amidst diplomatic speculation that UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura might be on his way out, Haley renewed US confidence in de Mistura’s efforts. She said, “The United States absolutely supports de Mistura and the work that he is doing. We support the UN process, we support the talks in Geneva, we want to see them continue.”

Haley, known for her blunt criticism since she took the job in January of Russia and Iran, said the Syria question “is very much about a political solution now … and that basically means that Syria can no longer be a safe haven for terrorists.”

But Syria watchers voiced skepticism over Trump’s roadmap to execute such a goal and drive Iran with its many proxies from Syria.

Joseph Bahout, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Arab News that Haley’s sentiment “will only be considered a departure from the last eight years of US policy on Syria under the Obama administration, if the Trump team has thoroughly thought of a new policy as a whole. We must see if this is only an isolated statement, like Haley’s own Russia’s statement a few weeks ago.”

On the ground in Syria, the “US has been so far toothless on this issue of pushing Iran out,” but if there are plans in that direction, Bahout said, “it is easier to do it in Syria than in Iraq.”

He said that in Syria, unlike Iraq, “it is via proxy and less face to face than Iraq where US troops are on the ground, and Iran is a co-owner of the country” following the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The Russian influence in Syria could also drive attempts by Washington to peel it from Iran, added Bahout. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin discussed Iranian influence in Syria with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and he is expected to meet Turkish President Recep Tayib Erdogan Friday.

The questions that drive skepticism around Trump vision to oust Iran from Syria, relate to the new US administration not having a clear strategy for the conflict, nor a complete staffed team that is addressing the issue. Michael Ratney, the former US envoy for Syria, has been promoted to deputy assistant secretary last month, and is directing both the Syria file and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process according to the State Department.

The State Department also confirmed Thursday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will host on March 22-23 a 68-nation meeting in Washington to discuss the next moves by the coalition fighting Daesh.


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