Biden administration appoints new Syrian political chief


Aimee Cutrona, the top Biden administration official overseeing Syrian politics, is moving to a new role.

Ethan Goldrich, who was previously US charge d’affaires in the United Arab Emirates, succeeded Cutrona on Monday as deputy assistant secretary for Levantine affairs and engagement with Syria, the State Department said today. .

Cutrona will take on a new assignment that will be made public in the future, a State Department spokesperson told Al-Monitor via email.

In his new role, Goldrich will also oversee the execution of the State Department’s response to Lebanon’s political crisis and economic collapse, as well as a reinvigorated engagement with longtime ally Jordan, who faced an unprecedented alleged coup attempt earlier this year.

Yet while the new administration focuses on solving domestic issues and making long-term preparations to prevent a rising China, Washington’s Syrian policy remains amorphous.

With the Islamic State (IS) largely defeated and President Bashar al-Assad controlling much of the country, the remaining fears of the war are frozen in a stalemate. Meanwhile, America’s indirect negotiations with Iran, a key player in the conflict, have stalled.

So far, the Biden administration’s approach to the conflict in Syria has differed from that of the Trump administration only in nuances, with a new emphasis on securing humanitarian support.

Strategically, however, the policy remains under review. So far, officials in the Biden administration have not strayed from the Trump-era approach of leaving US troops in the country indefinitely after ISIS’s territorial defeat.

Some 900 American soldiers are occupying part of Syrian territory to support the local militias led by the Kurds who have borne the brunt of the war against ISIS. Together, they maintain security in an area home to some 4 million Syrians, while keeping a lid on makeshift prisons that house thousands of captured IS fighters.

They also control Syria’s main wheat-producing region and the country’s lucrative oil fields.

The policy of leaving US troops in post-ISIS Syria was crafted under the auspices of former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as Trump administration officials saw the country’s stranded battlefield as an opportunity to deny Russia and Iran – Assad’s main foreign backers – a clear victory in the region.

Trump has repeatedly sought to overturn the policy and withdraw US forces from the country, citing what he called a “never-ending war.” The best advisers, however, rejected these orders. Outrage by some US officials over Turkey’s attacks on Kurdish-led forces as part of Trump’s October 2019 withdrawal order has led the former president to reverse his decision.

Officials in the Biden administration have indicated that US troops will not be leaving Syria anytime soon and have added new sanctions against the Assad regime. Washington continues to insist that the regime implement reforms consistent with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 calling for free and fair elections in Syria.

Assad met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week to discuss the conflict.

Meanwhile, Arab governments are exploring options to normalize ties with the Assad regime, despite warnings from Washington against possible US sanctions.


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