French diplomats are alarmed by the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, Le Figaro reported, citing high-ranking officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
According to the French media outlet, France has been losing political leverage in Syria from the very onset of the crisis, and US President Donald Trump’s decision to bring the troops back home may have dealt a fatal blow to Paris’ diplomatic capabilities.
“If they leave, our ground forces will be forced to follow them. Western countries risk losing the only remaining trump card – north of Syria”, one source told Le Figaro.
On the other hand, diplomats are not losing heart: since Trump’s announcement, the French authorities have been trying to talk the US president out of the pull-out or, at least, to put it on hold, the newspaper claims.
Paris has been providing an array of reasons to halt the implementation of Trump’s surprise decision, including the risk of chemical weapons attack, protection of US-backed Kurdish militia, Iran’s alleged attempts to entrench itself in Syria, as well as that the fight against Daesh* was far from being over.
One insider claimed that it was President Emmanuel Macron who had convinced Trump to postpone the withdrawal of US troops from Syria.
Despite these efforts, France has lost its clout in the Middle East, the author of the article suggests. Paris’s goals in the country remain unchanged – fight against terrorism and political settlement of the conflict, without which Daesh’s defeat seems to be impossible.
“The victory of Bashar al-Assad and the Russians will not allow it to restore the geostrategic balance and peace between various communities. New elections and new constitution are essential. […] We have to face the reality: there are some things that we cannot do, and our influence has been reduced. After the withdrawal of Americans our capabilities to control the internal situation in Syria will be extremely limited”, one of the sources said.
According to Le Figaro, Trump’s policy towards Syria was “promising”: unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, he didn’t “ditch his French allies at the last moment”, he, instead, ordered two rounds of airstrikes on Syria since taking office in 2017.
Still, France, as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, may take action with regards to a peace agreement in Syria, once it’s reached, Le Figaro says.
On top of that, France remains the only country, besides Russia, that maintains contacts with all parties of the conflict in the region.
“At some point, Paris will inevitably take part in the settlement”, a diplomat told the newspaper.
Yet Le Figaro noted that France’s diplomatic prospects are quite bleak: Russia, Iran and Turkey have caused a “short circuit” in the UN, having deprived Paris of leverage, while confidence in their American ally has been undermined.
“And the fact that the US policy towards Syria and Iran manages to be inconsistent and controversial at the same time is unlikely to stop Donald Trump from leaving the Middle East one day”, another diplomat said.
In mid-December 2018, President Trump announced that he was ordering a full and immediate troop pull-out from Syria, having declared victory over Daesh.
Although he didn’t provide the exact timetable for the departure, the announcement was met with regret – and condemnation – by a number of American and foreign officials.
Last week, his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, announced that France would maintain its military presence in the Middle East as part of the international coalition throughout the year 2019.
“The announced withdrawal of our American ally should not deflect us from our strategic objective to eradicate Daesh”, Macron said.
The French president’s statement came a day after a suicide bombing claimed by Daesh killed at least 16 people, including US servicemen and civilians, in Manbij, Syria.