Salih Muslim is the leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The U.S. government has long considered the PKK a terrorist group, a designation which Secretary of State John Kerry reinforced in his recent swing through Turkey. He has applied for a visa to enter the United States to take part in consultations with officials in Washington, but the State Department has so far been unresponsive.
Denying the PYD leader a visa makes no sense for five reasons:
- First, there is no specific information about the PYD to tie it to terrorism. Indeed, the PYD has taken pains to distinguish itself from the broader PKK in Turkey.
- Second, the Turkish government has begun peace talks with the PKK. It is ironic that Washington would do Ankara’s dirty work, when even the Turkish government no longer operates under the pretense that the PKK must be isolated.
- Third, despite efforts by Iraqi Kurdish leader Masud Barzani to assert his control over Kurdish regions in Syria, it is Salih Muslim and the PYD to whom Syrian Kurds overwhelmingly turn. It is the PYD which administers territory, runs schools, and has restored a modicum of normalcy to territory it controls.
- Fourth, the PYD is a secular movement. Its main opponent—the Nusra Front—no longer hides the fact that it is an al-Qaeda affiliate. By failing to recognize–let alone coordinate with–the PYD, the Obama administration is effectively strengthening a group which, unlike the PYD, is dedicated to killing Americans.
- Fifth, as soon as the PKK and the Turkish government announced their peace process, the Assad regime reportedly responded by attacking neighborhoods in Aleppo in which Kurds reside and which have a heavy PYD presence. According to one Turkish journalist familiar with the situation, the assault seemed to be Iran’s warning to the Syrian Kurds that Iran would oppose Kurdish empowerment at any cost (Iran has a large Kurdish minority unhappy with the Islamic Republic for both ethnic and sectarian reasons).
Let us hope that the decision to sit on Salih Muslim’s application is just the result of some junior Foreign Service officer who doesn’t know better, and doesn’t have instructions. After all, Kerry is busy traveling and so has yet to get his house in order. Still, it is a pretty sad testament to the lack of any coherent policy in Washington that U.S. policy defaults, in effect, to the same side as both al-Qaeda and Iran.