As Kurdistan 24 reported from Afrin, however, forces backed by Damascus did reach the city.
At the State Department, Kurdistan 24 followed up the initial line of questioning by asking about Russia, which seems to be acting along lines described by Dr. Aykan Erdemir, a former Turkish parliamentarian and now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
As Erdemir noted, Russia has leverage in Syria—carrot and stick—that it uses to influence various parties to the conflict to promote its agenda.
According to Erdemir, Russia first gave Turkey a green light to attack Afrin, then as the conflict stalemated, Moscow has sought to use it to extend the reach of the Syrian regime.
However, Nauert declined to comment. “I’m not going to speak about what Russia may be doing to Turkey and what Turkey may be doing to Russia,” although she did affirm that, overall, the Russians “have been using their leverage in Syria.”
Nauert also noted that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had “productive meetings” in Ankara last week with Turkish Foreign Minister and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“They talked a lot” about Syria and “our concerns,” she said. “We continue to stress” the need for “a de-escalation of violence” and for protecting civilians.
However, it appears that, following Tillerson’s visit, the US has largely capitulated to Turkish demands, a view confirmed by an informed Washington source.
Ankara claims it had an understanding with the Obama administration that, if it came to feel threatened by US dealings with its partners in Syria in the fight against the Islamic State (IS), such as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), it would take military action.
Turkey may be claiming now that the US announcement last month, that it would support the SDF to maintain security in those parts of Eastern Syria that have been liberated from IS’ control, constitutes such a threat.
US officials are reportedly frustrated with Turkey’s actions, particularly as it is using extremists as a proxy force, but do not seem prepared to do much to challenge them.
Kurdistan 24 also asked about the visit to Iraq earlier this week by Ali Akbar Velayati, Iranian Foreign Minister from 1981 until 1997, and subsequently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top adviser on foreign affairs.
In Baghdad to attend an Islamic conference, Velayati met a number of Iraqi officials, expressing his opposition to a continued US military presence in the country.
At least one Iraqi official, Deputy Speaker of Parliament Humam Hamoudi, publicly agreed, as he vowed “to reject any US military presence in the region,” and accused Washington of having “its own malicious aims and objectives.”
Nauert expressed no concern, however. “It would be natural for Iraq and Iran” to have discussions, as they are neighbors, she responded, comparing the situation to the talks between North and South Korea.
“We are fully comfortable and confident in our relationship” with Iraq, and we “have confidence in the Iraqi Government and are highly skeptical that they would bow down to Iran.”
Entifadh Qanbar, an Iraqi-American and President of the Future Foundation in Washington DC, had a different view.
Qanbar explained to Kurdistan 24 that Velayati had given an offensive speech at the conference, asserting that Iran would “not allow” liberals to take power, nor Communists, a reference to the fire-brand Shiite cleric, Muqtada al Sadr, who is aligned electorally with Iraq’s Communist party.
Qanbar said Velayati’s speech created a “wide backlash” among Iraqis because he spoke as if Iraq “was a colonial extension of Iran.”
A notable exception to the widespread outrage was the government’s Al Iraqiya channel, Qanbar said, stressing that it is “under the direct control of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his Dawa party.”
Editing by John J. Catherine