Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

US delegation heads to Middle East to discuss Syria and Iran

James Jeffrey and Joel Rayburn will visit Israel, Jordan and Turkey to discuss the Idlib offensive

A Syrian protester chants slogans as she waves a flag of the opposition in Idlib province. AFP
A Syrian protester chants slogans as she waves a flag of the opposition in Idlib province. AFP

A US delegation will visit Jordan, Turkey and Israel to coordinate and reassure Syria’s neighbours as the government of Bashar Al Assad and its Russian and Iranian allies prepare an offensive against rebel-held Idlib.

The US State Department announced on Friday that James Jeffrey, newly appointed Special Representative for Syria Engagement, accompanied by Near Eastern Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary and Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn, will visit Israel, Jordan, and Turkey beginning on Saturday.

In Israel, the delegation “will meet with senior government officials to discuss our shared interest, in reference to Syria, in maintaining Israel’s security while countering Iran’s destabilising activity throughout the region,” the State Department said. “They will also underscore that the United States will respond to any chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime.”

In Jordan and Turkey, Mr Jeffrey and Mr Rayburn will also focus on Syria and “reiterate the US position that a military offensive in Idlib will escalate the crisis in Syria and the region, risk the lives of humanitarians and Syrian civilians, and destroy civilian infrastructure,” the State Department said.

The delegation will address what it called Moscow’s “specious allegations of international plans to stage a chemical weapons attack in Syria”.

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticised Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for "defending (the) Syrian and Russian assault".

“Sergey Lavrov is defending Syrian and Russian assault on Idlib. The Russians and Assad agreed not to permit this. The US sees this as an escalation of an already dangerous conflict” Mr Pompeo tweeted on Friday:

US options are limited on the ground in Syria but a US official speaking to the Washington Post on Thursday said: “Right now, our job is to help create quagmires [for Russia and the Syrian regime] until we get what we want,” in responding to Idlib.

“This approach involves reassuring the three key US allies on Syria’s border – Israel, Turkey and Jordan – of continued American involvement,” according to the report.

Updated: September 1, 2018 03:01 PM

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