“This is the first time since the Second World War that a meeting like this was held without the approval of the UN. They are determining Syria’s future without any American representative,” Liberman stated regarding tripartate meeting in Ankara.
By: AP and World Israel News Staff
The White House said Wednesday that the US military mission in Syria was coming to “a rapid end” but offered no firm timeline for a withdrawal, even as President Donald Trump has insisted it’s time for American troops to return home.
With Israel and other US allies anxious about a hasty US withdrawal, the Trump administration said it would stay in war-torn Syria to finish off the job of defeating the Islamic State group and was committed to eliminating the militants’ “small” presence that “our forces have not already eradicated.”
But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders suggested that would not be a long-term endeavor, and she described the Islamic State (ISIS), which once controlled vast swaths of Syria and Iraq, as “almost completely destroyed.”
There were clear signs the United States was narrowing its mission in Syria and would focus only on defeating ISIS and not on the broader task of stabilizing the country.
“We will continue to consult with our allies and friends regarding future plans,” Sanders said in a brief written statement. “We expect countries in the region and beyond, plus the United Nations, to work toward peace and ensure” that ISIS never comes back.
Trump wants to ‘bring our troops back home’
Trump and his national security team are having a contentious debate about the future US role in Syria, where an American-led coalition has been fighting ISIS since 2014. Roughly 2,000 US troops are currently in Syria.
The president met with top aides Tuesday before telling reporters that he wanted to “get out” and “bring our troops back home.” CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who has been chosen as the new secretary of state, and other advisers strongly advised Trump against too quick a withdrawal, according to US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal talks.
US officials and foreign governments have been concerned that without a continued American military presence, ISIS could re-constitute itself or others could fill the void.
Many have warned that a premature US withdrawal from Syria would cede the country to Iran and Russia, which have supported Syrian President Bashar Assad. Iran’s continued presence in Syria is especially troubling to neighboring Israel, a US ally that regards Iran as an existential threat.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly warned against an increasing Iranian presence in Syria, saying it would threaten Israel and the world.
Meanwhile, the presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey gathered in Ankara on Wednesday in a tripartite summit designed to reach an agreement on ending the civil war and on dividing their influence in war-ravaged Syria. Analysts say that the three countries have very different interests, but they are planning to take advantage of the declining Western assets in the country since Trump’s announcement that he wants out.
Commenting on the tripartate meeting, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said, “This is the first time since the Second World War that a meeting like this was held without the approval of the UN. They are determining Syria’s future without any American representative.”
At a news conference with the leaders of the Baltic nations on Tuesday, Trump said that “as far as Syria is concerned, our primary mission in terms of that was getting rid of ISIS. We’ve completed that task and we’ll be making a decision very quickly, in coordination with others in the area, as to what we will do.”
The mission is “very costly for our country and it helps other countries a helluva lot more than it helps us,” Trump said. “I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation.”
Another lingering question is the fate of some $200 million in US stabilization assistance for Syria that the White House put on hold after Trump said last week that he wanted to leave Syria “very soon.” The State Department was to have spent the money on building up the country’s infrastructure, including power, water and roads.
Trump’s comments came at an ‘inappropriate time’
Trump in recent weeks has asked Saudi Arabia to contribute $4 billion for reconstruction in Syria, according to a US official, as part of the president’s effort to get other countries to pay for stabilizing the country so the US isn’t on the hook. The United States is awaiting a response from the Saudis, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the conversations publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
A senior Syrian Kurdish official said Trump’s comments on wanting to withdraw from Syria came at an “inappropriate time” as ISIS re-emerges in eastern Syria and amid threats from Turkey.
Netanyahu spoke Tuesday with Trump about regional developments and Iran. The Israeli leader “thanked Trump for his commitment to Israel’s security and America’s support for Israel at the United Nations. The two leaders agreed to continue the close coordination between the two states in order to repel Iran’s aggression and its attempts to destabilize the region,” Netanyahu’s media adviser stated.