This comes as US National Security Adviser John Bolton, who was in Ankara for talks with Turkish officials this week, angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with his remarks on Syria.
Bolton placed conditions on the pull-out, saying that US troops were going to maintain their presence in north-eastern Syria until Turkey guaranteed the Kurdish fighters would be safe. Erdogan reiterated that Ankara cannot compromise on the issue of the Kurdish YPG militia.
Sputnik discussed the withdrawal of US forces from Syria with Joaquin Flores, editor-in-chief of the Fort Russ News website.
Sputnik: How would you assess the results of John Bolton's visit to Turkey?
Joaquin Flores: Well I think that Bolton is probably pretty proud of himself and feels that he has achieved something, something that I think we need to look at, framing this as the way Trump went into this going back a few weeks.
What sort of behind-the-doors infighting within his Cabinet in the Trump administration had occurred, to yield what appeared, at least to many people, to be a reversal of the position or at least a very strong amendment of this position. And I think that what Bolton was able to do is triangulate, quite successfully in many ways, certainly we saw the tune change a number of times, and I think this left a lot of people scratching their heads.
Sputnik: But there seems to be a flurry of activity now with Bolton's visit to Turkey, Mike Pompeo and his Middle Eastern tour, also with the aim of reassuring allies and generally explaining this decision to withdraw troops from Syria. But on the other hand there is a bit of a standoff as well, because everyone I've talked to has been saying that nobody knows when this withdrawal (of US forces) is going to happen, because for the time being we're just seeing the two sides coming out with preconditions. Turkey is pretty adamant that it's not going to concede…
Joaquin Flores: Absolutely, on the one hand we can say, certainly, if we look at the books that Trump has written such as 'Art of the Deal', it's okay, it's allowed to say that this is something we're not going to do, and simply to raise the price of the thing that you are going to do. So it's actually just a bargaining position to start from, I don't want to buy it at all, right?
We have an election coming up in 2020 and he's going to want to be able to appeal to a lot of the same anti-war electorate which saw him be elected several years ago in the first place, so this provides convenient cover.
It doesn't look to me as if a withdraw is on the horizon, but what it does look like that when one speaks of a withdraw it forces other nominally regional allies of the United States to up their stakes, maybe they have to increase their buy in. Whether it means that Saudi Arabia needs to do more, whether or not it means that they're going to get some concessions from Turkey.
Turkey of course often appears to vacillate between a position which favours the sovereignty of Syria and at the same time plays with the permanent occupation of parts of Syria under the pretext, of course, of fighting YPG or SFD, Kurdish and similar forces who are, of course, backed by the United States.
The pretext of fighting Daesh, the pretext of being in Syria until Daesh* is defeated, is actually Obama administration rhetoric. To shift this over to it being about Daesh and not about a partition of Syria and not about removing Assad is precisely how the United States wound up in this quagmire in the first place, going back, goodness now, six plus years. So this is certainly not a new game but we have new players at an old game.
Sputnik: Of course, knowing Trump one might assume that some sort of a deal will be struck. How much leverage does Washington have over Ankara when it comes to all these negotiations about the US presence in Syria and support for Kurdish militias?
Joaquin Flores: I think that's the $64,000 question. Certainly, US leverage over Turkey has decreased over time; the United States has done a number of things which would be the subject of another episode, but one could make a list of things that would give the Turkish government good reason not to trust the United States.
The number of incidents well-establish that the United States really, if they were unhappy with the Turkish government, didn't have a problem with trying to, in fact, perhaps, overthrow it through a military coup or otherwise.
Now one of those legs is no longer credible, speaking of course of long time US agents who are often said to have their own Embassies around the world parading as Turkish Embassies.
Obviously, when we look at organizations like this, speaking of course of Gulen, without the support, without that sort of leverage, this changes things considerably.
We have to keep in mind that while this was not publicized, incredibly it wasn't simply Gulen or the AKP coalition, but also those within the Turkish electorate who are sympathetic to radical Sunni organizations such as what we call Daesh*.
And, of course, the games that Erdogan's own son was playing as leading ISIS organizations stealing oil from Syria, so with all of that no longer in play, the United States has less leverage than before.
*Daesh (aka Islamic state, ISIL, IS) is a terrorist group banned in Russia
The views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.