Russia warns Pindostan to thoroughly consider safe zone plan in Syria
AP, Jan 26 2017
MOSCOW — The Kremlin said Thursday that a Pindo plan for safe zones in Syria should be thoroughly considered. Asked to comment on a draft executive order that Pres Trump is expected to sign this week, Pres Putin’s spox Dmitry Peskov said it was important to “weigh all possible consequences” of the measure. He said in a conference call with reporters that Pindostan hasn’t consulted with Russia on the subject and noted:
It’s important not to exacerbate the situation with refugees.
While suspending visas for Syrians and others, the order directs the Pentagon and the State Dept to produce a plan for safe zones in Syria and the surrounding area within 90 days. It includes no details. Safe zones, proposed by both Trump and Clinton during the campaign, were ruled out by the Obama administration for fear it would bring Pindostan into direct conflict with Syria and Russia. In October, the Russian military specifically warned Pindostan against striking Syrian government forces, saying its air defense weapons in Syria would fend off any attack. Trump has provided few details about how he plans to approach Syria’s complex conflict.
Syrian govt & rebels await action from Trump on safe zones
Tom Perry, Reuters, Jan 27 2017
BEIRUT – Syrian rebels urged Pres Trump to fulfill a pledge to create safe zones in their country, but analysts doubted he would proceed with a step that could drag Faschingstein deeper into war, hasten Syria’s fragmentation and risk conflict with Russia. Trump told ABC News on Wednesday he “will absolutely do safe zones in Syria” for refugees fleeing violence, and that Europe had made a mistake by admitting millions of refugees from Syria. Reflecting uncertainties about the announcement, representatives of the insurgents voiced only cautious optimism. Fares al-Bayoush, a rebel commander in north-western Syria, said:
We’ve seen no result on the ground from statements that were made six years ago. So therefore we await action before anything else.
Qatar welcomed Trump’s comments and “emphasized the need to provide safe havens in Syria and to impose no-fly zones to ensure the safety of civilians.” There was no immediate word from Damascus. Russia said it had not been consulted on Trump’s plan, warning that it should not “exacerbate the situation with refugees” and Washington should weigh up “all the consequences.” The creation of safe zones would mark a major shift in Pindosi policy. Obama resisted an idea that would require a commitment to defend such areas from Syria and Russia. Trump appears to see safe zones as a way to stem the tide of refugees, which he sees as a possible threat to Pindosi security. But there are no obvious answers as to how Pindostan could avoid the problems that have prevented it establishing safe zones in Syria before, including the complication of policing such an area in a war zone dotted with armed groups. The President could order the State Dept and the DoD to produce a plan that would create “safe areas” in countries surrounding Syria, where millions of refugees already live. The Syrian government hopes Trump will end Pindosi support for the rebels and refocus Pindosi policy solely on fighting Daesh, perhaps in cooperation with Russia. Pres Trump has indicated he will do both. Yezid Sayigh of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut said:
At this stage, this is very much in the realm of political maneuvering. I don’t think it is signaling imminent Pindosi action. Previous discussion of safe zones in Syria has focused on rebel-held areas in the north-west, stretching from Idlib province to the Euphrates river. Areas in the south-west, at the border with Jordan, have also been seen as a possibility. But defending a safe zone from attack by Syria, Russia and their militia allies would inevitably lead to an escalation, which is one of the reasons Obama avoided this path in the first place. Another big challenge would be how to police the area to maintain its neutral status as a safe zone.
While much of Trump’s Syria policy remains unclear, Syrian Kurds, who have generally avoided conflict with Assad, look set to remain central to Pindosi strategy. The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia controls swathes of north-east Syria, where conflict with the government is rare and the USAF mounts regular air strikes against Daesh targets. Syrian Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria alarms Turkey, which fears it could increase separatist sentiment among its Kurdish minority. Kurdish groups already govern northern Iraq, where the establishment of a no-fly zone in 1991 helped them on their way to autonomy from Baghdad. The YPG has links to the PKK, a designated terrorist group in Turkey. Growing Kurdish influence in northern Syria largely explains why Turkey launched a major incursion into Syria last year, helping the FSA drive Daesh, Nusra and Kurds alike away from the border. The operation dubbed “Euphrates Shield” has created what the Turks call a safe zone that is 100 km long. This week, a new Turkish-trained Syrian police force deployed in the town of Jarablus in that strip of territory. Turkey, which hosts 2.8 million Syrian refugees, has long advocated safe zones in Syria, but said it was waiting to see the outcome of a “study” requested by Trump. Aid agencies in the region are concerned. Karl Schembri, Regional Media Adviser in the Middle East for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said:
From our experience, we know that militarily enforced ‘safe zones’ rarely work and can actually put civilians at more risk.
Trump says he will ‘absolutely do safe zones’ in Syria
Reuters, Jan 25 2017
Pres Trump told ABC News in an interview:
Europe made a tremendous mistake by admitting millions of refugees from Syria and elsewhere and I don’t want that to happen here. I’ll absolutely do safe zones in Syria for the people.
According to a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday, Trump is expected to order the Pentagon and the State Dept in coming days to craft a plan for setting up the “safe zones.” The draft executive order awaiting Trump’s signature said:
The Sec State in conjunction with the Sec Def is directed within 90 days of the date of this order to produce a plan to provide safe areas in Syria and in the surrounding region in which Syrian nationals displaced from their homeland can await firm settlement, such as repatriation or potential third-country resettlement.
Increased Pindo or vassal airpower would be required if Trump chooses to enforce no-fly restrictions, and ground forces might also be needed to protect civilians in those areas. The document gave no details on what would constitute a safe zone, exactly where they might be set up and who would defend them. The draft raised the possibility of establishing safe havens in neighboring countries, but did not elaborate. Turkey has long pressed Obama without success for creation of a no-fly zone in Syria on its border with Turkey. Trump’s call for a plan for safe zones is part of a larger directive expected to be signed in coming days that includes a temporary ban on most refugees to Pindostan and a suspension of visas for citizens of Syria and six other Middle Eastern and African countries deemed to pose a terrorism threat. It represents a modified version of the blanket ban on Muslims entering Pindostan that Trump initially advocated on the campaign trail last year. During and after the presidential campaign, Trump called for no-fly zones to harbor Syrian refugees as an alternative to allowing them into Pindostan. Trump accused the Obama administration of failing to properly screen Syrians entering Pindostan to ensure they had no militant ties. Obama’s aides have insisted the vetting was meticulous and none of the Syrian refugees allowed in have been implicated in any attacks. On the campaign trail, Trump gave no details as to how he might go about creating such havens, except to say that he would ask Gulf states to help pay. One Pindo source said:
All the questions of setting up a safe zone are still there. If you’re going to declare a safe zone, there’s a lot of other things to do before it becomes feasible. Among the biggest questions would be how to avoid confrontations with Russian forces in Syria helping keep Assad in power.
Under the broader executive order, which the draft document says is intended to “protect the Pindo creeple from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals,” Trump would impose a 30-day suspension of the entry of immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The temporary halt is aimed at gaining enough time to determine what information is needed from each country to ensure visas are not issued to individuals that pose a national security threat, according to the draft. Countries that do not provide adequate information about their nationals will be required to do so within 60 days or risk being blocked from entering Pindostan. That would exclude diplomatic visas, NATO visas and visas for travel to the UN. It would also suspend Pindostan’s overall refugee program for 120 days, but that could be waived on a case-by-case basis. The draft said the order would completely stop refugee processing of Syrians, until “I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to to (ensure) its alignment with national interest.”