The new US special envoy for Syria diplomacy warned Thursday that the conflict could expand if there’s no political settlement. James Jeffrey’s comments came just hours after a group of western and Arab countries opposed to Bashar al-Assad met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to press the world body to convene “as quickly as possible” a “credible, inclusive panel” tasked with drafting a new constitution so elections can be held.
“You have a real risk, if you do not get some kind of a political settlement, of a much larger conflict, a red-on-blue conflict as opposed to a conflict of military forces with local jihadis or local rebels,” Jeffrey said.
Why it matters: The accidental shootdown earlier this month of a Russian reconnaissance plane that killed 15 service members has focused international attention on the risks of military escalation as Syrian, Iranian, Russian, Israeli and US forces all fighting their own battles in the war-torn country. Jeffrey urged Moscow to convince the Iranians to leave the country to placate the Israelis and prevent an escalation of the seven-year war.
“We’re not going to force the Iranians out of Syria,” he said. “We don’t even think the Russians can force the Iranians out of Syria, because force implies force, military action … This is all about political pressure.”
Pressure points: The State Department’s new Syria team, headed up by Jeffrey and retired US Army Col. Joel Rayburn, wants UN-led talks in Geneva to move forward. They’re also trying to convince Russia to stop Syrian regime’s movement toward the rebel-held stronghold of Idlib, with threats of economic retribution. Brian Hook, the US special envoy for Iran, doubled down today by saying that the US would not fund reconstruction in Syria until Iran leaves.
What’s next: In a joint statement Thursday, the foreign ministers of the so-called Syria small group – made up of the United States, Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom – gave UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura until Oct. 31 to report back on his progress. A US expert told Al-Monitor that the statement was an explicit effort to put pressure on the UN envoy after he met with Turkish, Russian and Iranian officials earlier this week.
Know more: Al-Monitor’s Khaled al-Khateb has the latest on the deal between Russia and Turkey to negotiate a buffer zone in Idlib. You can read our complete coverage of the negotiations over Idlib right here.
- Jack Detsch
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