Dubai: The US is not opposed to Russia’s key interests in Syria, but wants Moscow to pressure the regime of Bashar Al Assad to change its behaviour, James Jeffrey, the Trump administration’s ‘Special Representative for Syria Engagement’ said during a teleconference with journalists in the region. “Russia wants a friendly government in Damascus, and wants to retain its military bases in Syria. We don’t challenge that. But the Syrian regime is one that has lost half its territory and half the country’s population ... Russia needs to pressure them to change their behaviour.”

Branding the conflict as the “core disaster of the last decade in the Middle East”, Jeffrey said America’s specific aim in Syria was the enduring defeat of Daesh. He added that Washington was also focussed on the removal of Iranian forces from Syria and a revitalisation of an irreversible political process for Syria. “We don’t believe the Al Assad regime should receive international reconstruction aid until it takes part in the UN-backed political process.”

On Sunday, the US-led coalition denied reports that air strikes it carried out in a part of eastern Syria held by Daesh had killed dozens of civilians, saying it struck only “legitimate” militant targets, and that another 10 air strikes in the area were not carried out by US-led forces. Asked by Gulf News if the US was coordinating its operations with the regime or its allies, Jeffrey said: “We don’t discuss our military operations. But we do ‘deconflict’ our military actions with Russia.”

He said the US had worked with Turkey, France, Germany and Russia to ensure that the Istanbul Summit would lead to the formation of a ‘constitutional committee’ by the end of the year. The UN envoy for Syria on Monday hinted he was ready to abandon efforts to set up a committee if no deal is reached by the end of December.

Jeffrey also indicated the US would not give a timeframe for its presence in Syria because it did, “people would just wait us out”.