Following National Security Advisor John Bolton's humiliating trip to Turkey this week wherein he was snubbed by President Erdogan for seeking "new conditions" on Trump's Syria pullout, Bolton has signaled the US could work with Russia to ensure the enduring protection US-backed Kurds once American forces exit.
Bolton said during an interview with the Hugh Hewitt radio show on Friday that the US remains open to dialogue with Russia over how best to protect the Kurds amidst the troops draw down, which appears to finally be underway in its early phase. “The Kurds are in a very difficult position, and the President [Donald Trump], as he spoke with President Erdogan, thinks that we, they were loyal to us, and we must make sure that they’re not harmed,” Bolton told the Hugh Hewitt radio show. “We’d talk to the Russians about it, too, if need be.”
Referencing the Dec. 14th call that appears the catalyst for Trump's full US troop draw down in Syria, Bolton described that Trump elicited a guarantee from Erdogan to not attack those particular Kurdish militias that have assisted the US in the anti-ISIS campaign. Bolton explained that Erdogan agreed; however, it could come down to definitions and labels as the Kurdish core of the US-armed and trained Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — the YPG — is officially designated by Turkey a terrorist extension of the outlawed PKK.
Though Bolton brushed off a question related to the humiliating snub by Erdogan, dismissing it as "political" and a bit of domestic grandstanding prior to the upcoming March 31st nationwide elections, he did answer the following million dollar question: as Turkey has again declared readiness for an impending attack on Syrian Kurdish enclaves east of the Euphrates, where American troops are still stationed, how will the US respond if Erdogan gives the order while US forces are still present?
Bolton answered, "It’s exactly this concern that American service members not be put in jeopardy, especially by a NATO ally, that was principally on President Trump’s mind," and affirmed that American officials while in Ankara this week made it clear to their counterparts that "the Turks should not take any military action that’s not fully coordinated through military to military channels with us." Military to military coordination has continued, according to Bolton, even as US-Turkish diplomatic tensions have been severely strained.
Interestingly Bolton's words came the same day that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking from the Middle East, told FOX that the Syrian government is here to stay and that future political negotiations would necessarily involve Assad.
In what constitutes the most significant acknowledgement of Washington's complete turnaround on Assad to date, FOX described:
Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, said in October 2017, that Syrian President Bashar al Assad had no role in Syria’s political future, but when asked whether that is still the U.S. position, Pompeo today said the Assad regime will be part of those conversations.
"We want to make sure all the options are open as that political discourse begins," Pompeo said. "We are very hopeful that we will get the bad actors in the region, the Russians and the Iranians, to come to the table, along with the regime and all the other stakeholders in there to come to the table and have conversations about what a post-civil-war political structure might look like in Syria."
So given that on the same day Bolton opened the possibility of coordination with Russia regarding the Kurds, and Bolton broached the rehabilitation of Assad regarding the rebuilding of Syria, it appears the White House could be ready to give a quiet nod to higher level talks between Assad and the Kurds, with Russian backing - despite current protestations to the contrary based on the official US position that no such rapprochement should take place.
As we said previously, the reality on the ground that that Kurds are headed towards making a deal with Assad which would provide Syrian Army protection to Kurdish enclaves in the face of the invading Turks — a local solution, fast taking shape, which will occur with or without the blessing of the United States.
However, Erdogan could race to slaughter Kurdish fighters in towns along the border before this reunion with Damascus takes full shape.