tv Atlantic Council Discussion on U.S. Policy Toward Syria - James Jeffrey... CSPAN December 17, 2018 1:26pm-2:20pm EST
>> hello, everyone and welcome to the atlantic council. my name is william and i lead the program in the middle east. for a programoday of our continuing syrian initiative. the firstch enjoyed part of this program talking about stability, programs in eastern syria and the important work of the atlantic council, documenting the atrocities that were done. now, we are here to hear from ambassador james jeffries.
currently serves as secretary special representative of syrian engagement. he is of the senior american diplomat with experience in the middle, turkey, germany and the baltics and just held senior signs in washington dc and abroad and as national deputy advisor and ambassador to iraq and ambassador to turkey and united states ambassador to albany. he was the highest rank. was a969 until 1976, he u.s. army if a tree officer in germany and vietnam. thank you very much to everybody for being here and ambassador jeffrey for joining us today. [applause] ambassador jeffrey: thank you for inviting me here.
i am going to take a step back before i talk about syria. , six yearsyou know until august, i was in the think tank world down the street. of being inenefits a think tank is you get to think about the larger issue of foreign policy and abroad, secretarial analysis. and, so, having been bitten by that bug, not to expose if you're in the foreign service, i tried to follow up on my interest even in my current job which is all time-consuming. i read an article the other day, in "the new york times" about on america is divided several schools of thought on
for policy, whether it should be isolationist, neo-isolationist or definitions of diplomacy realist or idealist, internationalist kind of blame america. there are various you can use. we're doing with syria, i realized there was something missing. all of these analyses, as described in this article, of people weighing the pluses and minuses. , which is not unusual for an article on foreign affairs, the rest of the world. the rest of the world and how it acts gets to have a say in how we respond i'm assuming we want to respond as the most powerful nation in the world to events around us. the response to those events in effectively, you
have seen it, we can not really, destinies, shape our we have to take it as it is. thebest tinkering period in 1990's, how many of you want to say, we changed the world fundamentally for the better when we had all the power? now, the world is different. the trump administration has grasped this with both hands with policy and doctrine. the national security strategy and its introduction says "authoritarian states are looking to replace the united states which closes our outposts." the national defense strategy say "strategic competition, not terrorism, is the primary security."american
again and again, at least in the introductory parts of these are alls and you express and you know that it is the part to look at because of the rest of the larger list of every program we do in the rest regardless of which administration is writing it. up front elements signal where the administration is coming from. it has come to the conclusion that interstate rivalry is really, really important. we have to deal with it. it gets to syria. ofterms of internal conflict what we have known and basically been focused on for the last ande the fall of the wall , over 11he big issues
million people, more than all the inhabitants of chicago driven from their homes. the rise of isis, as a manifestation of this malignancy , the waves of refugees that have destabilize the entire political system in europe to a in which we have seen the end of. this is the internal conflict. it has become a great power conflict. there are five outside armed forces inside of syria. militaryh the syrian to the extent we can call it the military. the americans, the russians, the turkish, the iranians and the israelis. they are each pursuing important
national security objectives which in a couple of cases, in the case of the turks, they would see as an extension. on theicy that focuses situation in syria cannot simply focus on the internal conflicts. they would ignore it because it is crucial. they feed on each other. as we go forward, we have to focus not just on getting this group to take that action vis-a-vis the government, lay down arms or take up arms which would have been doing often on for the last 11 years, we have to focus on the international diplomacy. that is crucial. the u.s. history goes in syria, the probleming -- is isis will come back if the underlying conditions are
receptive to that kind of ideological movement and it requires us to deal with the other two. not only to keep isis from coming back, in the world of great power and regional competition. du in a process which i will get to in more detail -- and the you in process which i will -- the get process which i will into more detail. killingdamascus, after , it hashe population not opened the door to all of majorother parts and escalation of russian military which does not put more stability in the region. major escalation ofwe want to see regs fundamentally different. we are not trying to get rid of assad, but regime that it does
not produce the kind of things we have seen. and we think iran have to get out. we are talking about iranian ground troops. they were up diplomatic efforts and they have had for many decades. they will have more because of the relative change in power. but, iranian troops, in particular, long rage capabilities, missiles, rockets, systems, they are a threat to israel, which is israel conducts strike against of them. they're potentially a threat to us and our allies and partners such as jordan and turkey. that is the policy. in doing this, once again, in light of the focus in the last over the the turks northeast, we have looked at andvidual areas
back-and-forth with regime and the russians on refugee idp damascusnvoys out of and along the border by the regime. we have seen a variety of military engagement including one in the last few days in the northeast and our relations with the pyd in the fight against isis. vis-a-vis the turks and their es andns about pyd's ti there are threats to come in military as a they have done twice before in the euphrates and in aphfin. between theement turks of the russians with the iranians having come in later and conditions hard for the turks to meet including clearing the main road and getting all of the hard-core terrorists back
the confliction zone. and it eventually, according to the understanding related to the agreement, basically, getting rid of the organization physically. what -- more generally, what we have for the first time is where the final fight against isis is being carried out, relative peac e through all of syria. ,here are some shillings shooting back and forth between the turks and the kurds along the border. there was an incident. compared to what normally was this conflict has dished up since 2011, it is relatively peaceful. a briefve this allows opportunity for diplomacy to
work. and the looking at diplomacy will we see you in resolution 2554 as the road. that resolution in title endorsing roadmap, the peace process, was adopted almost three years ago to the day on december 18, 2015. forresents pragmatic steps all syrians. the de-escalation in violence across the country and humanitarian access and agreements to draft a new constitution and hold free and fair elections. is reason it is unanimous its principle is no military solution. occasionally, we think the regime believes in a military solution. the regime does not have the military power to effect to that. it has to rely on infantry provided by the iranians and provided by the russians. they have other interests and
with fingers opportunity to move forward on the political track. most of the attention, this week will be the denouement of it, has been with the process and the agreement of a year ago were the best on your three , that is 3, broughtstonia d conflicting zones with support from the u.s. and u.n. to take on the job of calling for the constitutional committee to execute the first of 4 major tracks in the political process. to revise a new constitution. in fits and starts for the past year. we are very close to potential breakthrough or a breakdown this week, we will find out after the
un security council meeting on syria. voy setup before it reinforced his role and will a nose the verdict on this. -- and will reinforce the verdict on this. they will meet in geneva and are if the to talk about list available to me the stand meets the standard of the opposition, the government and civil society, basically neutral people. the turks of the russians have told us they do meet that criteria. the opposition, headed by the syrian negotiating committee, has declared that right to know,
they do not accept the list. that is a huge problem. theas reported back to secretary-general. all of this is happening as we are talking right now. we believe there is a chance we can see a breakthrough with the calledutional committee forth in early july because of the list will be accepted by u.n. and all of us. right now, we are not there. the question which has been the question throughout this entire negotiation on the constitutional committee and all to resolve this conflict is the regime willing togive an iota of compromise any effort by the international community to resolve this and other terms of beside the regime's? it will not to be resolved on terms favorable of the regime. the regime has not won this
conflict. 40% of the territory is in other people's hands in over 100,000 counting the pyd. forces areposition active. the areas where the assad regime rules have only 50% of the population. rubble because the way iranians and russians acted out. 300 -- $300ire billion to $400 billion. who will pay the bill? i will tell you who paid the bill because i was involved, it was north america, western europe and the international financial institutions supported by us. we paid at the bill for something and iranian surrogate
launched and that will not happen again. there is a strong readiness on the part of western nations to not ante up money for that disaster unless we have some kind of idea the government is ready to compromise and not rror in theer hoee years ahead. we are not asking for regime change or the russians to leave. where asking for a compromise settlement and we will see if we get it. in terms of the constitutional committee, the question is how will this committee work? who will be in charge of it? leaving, we will be think have come up with ways it is a syrian led process.
once again, he has to fend off the regime to have this constitutional committee meet in damascus to have it under the shadow of the group whose interests are not the same as the international committee -- community. we are going back and forth on as we are speaking here today. commitment to move forward on this was strictly reinforced in istanbul in october in a meeting of the presidents of russia, turkey and france and the chancellor of germany to press on two areas of concern to everybody in syria. first is at a live and the people who were there who feared they would have no place to go if there was a major offensive. to quote the document "lasting cease-fire." thesecond thing is convene
constitutional committee by the end of december. we're almost at the end of december so we will see what happens. two scenarios. scenario a is will get the constitutional committee. it will have a strong effect on the politicizing and diploma ties and the conflict. diplomatizing the conflict frick in every area, it is different. the conflict in every area, it is different. movewe're trying to do is , laid oute direction in a part 2054. because it is what we're focused on, talks about political process and a de-escalation. that is something president trump emphasized in his various
comments on syria up in new york because he believes in the de-escalation is absolute necessarily to support the political process. the political process, if you can progress on it, willitutional committee support de-escalation because the more you have a viable any of the actors to violate up by launching another offensive. in a political/logical sense, moving forward, it is important for the cease-fire and that is relative peace in syria. it opens at the door to paragraphs five and six of 2054 which talks about of a set of cease-fires managed or monitored for nationwide cease-fire. we think it is a good idea and we want to move forward. we are working with our friends. we talked with russians about
this. we do not have a lot of agreement so far, what with ink it is of the luck -- but we think it is the logical next step as a roadmap to the resolution. when i talk to people about sometimes, with some people, their eyes glaze over because web sing so many initiatives -- because we have seen so many initiatives and efforts and it rolls on. we are at a point where it is no longer a conflict that when part of the population and the government. , it is aificant degree different kind of conflict. involving active fighting and that could change tomorrow. we have an opportunity. there is a the question, if it world,k of the arab europe and the united states, international agencies
organizations hold the line and 2254, weut following are not going to provide support for the assad regime, what is do?assad regime going to how is it going to would back of the other half of this population? how is it going to gain the territory? how is it going to rebuild is devastating infrastructure? that is the question we post not to the assad regime but the russians all the time. we are waiting for an answer. i will stop and will be happy to answer in questions. [applause] william: i will call on four or five questions and the ambassador will unfortunately have to leave. let me start in the back first. back corner.
>> i came in a little late and i do not know if you touched on that. there are tensions with turkey and president trump and president on one -- or one spoken friday -- erdogan spoke on friday. can you give us any idea of where things stand? ambassador jeffrey: sure. it has been a considerable buildup of tensions between turkey, the u.s. and our partner in north east syria in the fight against isis, which is largely in theit has hands of control bd which has links to the pkk. we understand the concerns and we're committed to turkey's security and we'll talk to the turks. i spent three days there the week before. given at the threats of marching into deal with this problem
, the u.s. has reached out to the turks, include friday with a call from president trump to president erdogan. we have to wait and see. i believe the situation has calmed so what and where willing to work with the turks to find a way forward. we share the same objectives in most areas. we are very focused on turkish security. we're also very focused on finishing the fight against isis. we are going to be, again, managing this very closely. >> in the beginning, you're talking -- you were talking about wanting to fight against
isis. then, this is the first time i have heard we are not regime change. how likely will and not to be regime change is the international community is setting up a constitution? if there is regime change which was done in several other caused -- i dot not see how this can be. ambassador jeffrey: regime change is a term of ours applied american direct efforts often military in nature against iranian regime in 1953 against saddam in 2003 and gaddafi where we are charting to get rid of a leader and change to some degree
the nature of the state, the nature of the government. that is not what we are about. this is a u.n. process that the international community has agreed on. it is nothing unusual about that if you go over the last 30 or 40 years especially internal conflicts, a commitment by the nation involved or international community there has to be changes in the government and that country to afford keeping peacekeepers there forever and having 500 thousand people killed that spilled over into the neighborhoods. are looking for a different kind of regime. it does not have to the regime we embrace. say, qualifying to joining the european union if the european union was taking other countries. it does have to not sponsor with isis.s we saw it cannot use chemical weapons against its own people or anybody else.
it cannot be a launching pad for another country. specifically in the case of syria, iran. it cannot torture and cherries is on population terribly without being held to account. it has provide an environment where refugees will voluntarily and safely return which this regime does not. if it can meet these basic requirements with this political process, while we may not like it, the rest of the world would be willing to live with it and help it from it right now, it is far from it. william: sir, in the back. >> thank you very much. josh grogan, "washington post." thank you for your services. you mentioned the attack on a u.s. partner forces. what happened? we are stillffrey:
looking into the details. >> you mentioned the refugee camp which is inside. 50,000 people are starting. the u.n. envoys are held up. of the information from the russia blames europe and the u.s. for the plight of these people. is there a way for the u.s. arrive with the food and medicine that these people need? ambassador jeffrey: our concern is not that there are starving people but there will be starving people if we do not provide relief. with the cooperation of the regime, we got a convoy through and that was an important development. we are running in trouble with the russians at the moment. the u.n. kiss in the middle and has been very good and preparing a new plan to bring supplies in. but, basically, a lack of russian cooperation.
the united states military against isis has provided all kinds of assurances. the first in terms of security. the first delivery went flawlessly and no security threat to it. we do not see where the bcs. -- where the beef is. political movea to squeeze is in another direction were russia is saying we are illegal. william: to the back and then the front. policy toward sdf? do we have one? we have provided training. are we going to withdraw our support or support the sdf? ambassador jeffrey: first of all, we are supporting them for a specific goal which is the defeat of isis.
they are a force that are fighting isis and have done it effectively. it is in their interest to fight isis and they are not doing it for us but their own security. when we first partnered with when theys in 2014 were pushed of this of the border by an isis offensive. in terms of what is the future like? the analogy i would give you is and many of you were involved in this because it you have been doing middle east foreign policy for years, we supported groups like the ktp and the supreme council for the islamic revolution in iraq and the pew 12 times between 1991 in 2003 -- and 2003.91 to get a change of regime in iraq and there were our partners relationshiponal
for a specific goal. we achieved the goal. what did we do? tried to put together a society and constitution that would relationshipallow those politis and all other political parties to compete in a normal and natural and peaceful way without the kind of forward we had under orror weut the kind of h had under saddam. supportingries are and super bowl part -- and to become part of the society. we do not have permanent relations with substate entities. supporting and super bowlthat is not the ps administration and has not been the policy of other administrations if you talk about long-term support in a military sense and bring partner and long-term governments.
that is not what we do. in the long run, the solution for all the gurus is. isn't performed syrian government and internationally supported cease-fire and process that gives everybody the chance to live in peace. william: sir? >> thank you. about 100 crossed the border in syria with no corporation from the americas. will you be with his was the role that america sees for this? in the fall: friday between president erdogan and president trump, president erdogan claimed ansident trump had understanding of the plan of eastern syrian given erdogan said that something like that would not be acceptable. my question to you is, is either a lack of consistency in washington on the response to the turkish plant offensive in
syria? ambassador jeffrey: we think any offensive into northeastern syria by and one is a bad idea. that was a position i does a position i conveyed. we also understand the turks are concerned about the security situation. they see pyd is a minimum as a latent threat to them. and so we have to take that into account. we are working with the turks. one somewhat related thing is the deployment across the border, that was done with our understanding. that's one of the various steps that are taken.
>> can you please assess the success you anticipate to pushing out iran's military establishment in syria, within the current policy stager. also many goals without a strategy. could you speak to that as well? >> the presence of iranian forces particularly our are a concern for israel, but also a concern for every other country in syria. we see no reason to tolerate this. we see no reason for this to be
there. the syrian air defenses attempted to engage in the israelis, the alledge it israelis. escalation kind of the iranian presence bring. not like the extremely dangerous situation they introduced to an already cauldron of danger and horror. our position is they need to go. many timese russians why it's in russia's interest to be in there doing these things. we understand why it's in russia's and frist -- russia's interest -- why do they need long-range missiles? the russians have not given us a good answer.
entire international community, until we see a political process that delivers on the things we need. >> i think we have time for just two more questions. i'm going to ask for both of those questions to come and answer both at the same time. but -- bluelue jacket, you have been patient. >> thank you very much, very informative. my question is that the enduring defeat of isis. how can we guarantee we are pushing toward programs while not doing unintended consequences. they are pushing back on certain programs they are government is
trying to put together. they have their own agenda. we makewe make sure sure we're not getting into the same trap? collect the last question. kennedy, refinishing the master's degree in chinese politics. what are the chinese interests in the current process and what role have they been playing in the whole situation? pamela me start with stabilization. as someone who is spent a for amount of the last 20 years -- nobody knows how to do this.
many times we are successful enough to keep the state or the area from falling back -- from following back into the same old environments, the same old dysfunctionality, the same old chaos going into the first place. it's a question of money, but we have a great deal of money in iraq. we were successful in constitution. they were successful in assisting the iraqis. bringing a democratic system of governance and voting. to have limited
funds. $300 million since the spring and other funds. spending, which we get to do throughout syria. is that enough? we could always use more money. the question of whether people return to isis are returned to their regime or other political posture, it is one that goes on whether you're in -- whether you are affected and stabilization. it's not the only factor, which we will see. impression, i was in china a few years ago to talk about this.
a challenge to the american led is real regional system and worrisome. right now they are challenging in areas from the south china sea to some degree the korean peninsula, where they have a relatively higher degree of military capability and very strong trade links. while there are major -- they are a major importer, they are not a major economic player. and they have zero military presence and almost no diplomatic presence. but there is something that is interesting. you will see that the chinese often diverge from russians.
that indicates some degree of --cern many of it as hydrocarbons. it doesn't necessarily trust russia, which is it's much debt which is its other major source of carbons. a higher price for every cubic meter of gas, not necessarily being the biggest fan of the very stable, quiet middle east that can compete very effectively against russia for hybrid -- for hydrocarbons sales. there is a certain to virgins of interest based on the fact that russia wants to play
geopolitical -- a geostrategic role in the region. and a difference on the views of hydrocarbons generally. basically it's the dog that didn't bark. >> you are making an assumption that aside wants to build this country. happy, he very doesn't want the population that left. he may sit and wait it out for everybody else to essentially get in -- essentially given to him. gave,the example you would you see it in the future?
wouldn't predict anything in terms of the future. up all of the time. in the 1990's, when the thinking , we would care deeply about the basics of a country, not being a pariah politically and not being in a destitute dysfunction economically. if a country is going to array --elf on the other side outside this side, kind of conflict environment, which was what these documents predict. now is anve right aside that's very weak.
but his ability to do damage to other people, because most of the people we do damage to have fled, the ability to see more territory in his country. he has to rely totally on the russians and iranians. we will see how willing they are to indulge him further. it's better than a healthy aside. and three quarters of a million armed forces that is in cahoots with the ever -- with the russians and iranians, trying to change the security situation in the entire region. change in the a situation there that will allow refugees to go back and allow
the 20 million people to return to a normal life. terms,t get that on our we are to have to get on assad's terms. the resources we devote to this conflict compared to the resources we devote to trying to contain russia and deal with china. even trying to do with the situation in afghanistan are very limited. mainly in the area of taking care of refugees. this is something that is certainly sustainable for us. >> we really appreciate the time. thank you. [applause]
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