In his first major foreign policy address on February 4, 2021, US President Joe Biden outlined his foreign policy priorities, including re-joining the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accords, ending the COVID-19 pandemic, resolving the refugee crisis, bringing back the Iran nuclear deal, re-balancing relations with China and Russia, addressing the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the coup in Myanmar, and restoring human rights and LGBTQ rights globally. “America is back,” he declared, signaling a shift from the previous administration’s “America first” policy.
What remained unclear is the direction that US policy will take toward Syria, especially North and East Syria. In fact, Syria was not directly mentioned in President Biden’s remarks at all. Still, there are some signs emerging on what Biden’s Syria policy may look like.
Aymee Cutrona, a seasoned US diplomat known for her work in Bahrain, Qatar, and Egypt, has been appointed as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Levant Affairs and is serving as US Special Envoy for Syria Engagement. As special envoy, she replaces Joel Rayburn, and before him, James Jeffrey, as the top representative of the United States in Syria. Cutrona has not yet made any public statements on Syria, but has been conducting meetings in her capacity as special envoy.
For now, the US military is planning to stay where it is in North and East Syria and in collaboration with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as confirmed by a spokesperson for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, Operation Inherent Resolve, in a Tweet on Sunday, February 21.
“The mission of @CJTFOIR in NE Syria hasn’t changed. The Coalition works, by, with & thru our partner force SDF to defeat Daesh. The Coalition regularly conducts security patrols; re-supply convoys into the ESSA & upgrades & maintains bases. Troop levels & bases haven’t increased,” the Tweet said.
Meanwhile, there are at least some signs that the Biden Administration will follow through with rhetoric to pressure Turkey. The Department of Defense newly confirmed that it will not allow Turkey to re-join the F-35 program due to its purchase of the S-400 weapons system from Russia. It remains to be seen how much pressure the US administration is willing to apply to Turkey for its deplorable human rights record, or its occupation of regions within North and East Syria.