Trump freeze on Syria aid seen as win for Iran, Russia
$200 million package was a Tillerson priority
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – President Trump is moving to put Syria in his rearview mirror.
Trump told union workers in Ohio on Thursday that he wants to pull U.S. troops out of Syria “very soon.” Then on Friday, he directed the State Department to freeze some $200 million in recovery aid for the country, which is in the seventh year of a brutal civil war, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Both moves follow Trump’s decision in July to end a covert CIA program under President Barack Obama to train moderate rebels to fight Syrian President Bashar Assad, marking an end of U.S. efforts to remove the dictator.
At the time, he tweeted that the payments to Syrian rebels are “massive, dangerous, and wasteful.”
Friday’s move to hold off on the $200 million payment for recovery is the latest indication Trump, who campaigned on an “America first” agenda, is reassessing the U.S. military and foreign aid role in the Middle East and elsewhere.
“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,” Trump said. “We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.”
An estimated 2,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Syria. An American and a British servicemen were killed by a roadside bomb attack there, U.S. and British officials said Friday.
The aid package was a priority of now-fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had emphasized the importance of a strong American presence in Syria as a way to stabilize the region and keep Islamic State-backed terrorists from regaining strength.
A U.S. exit from Syria would be seen as a victory not just for Assad but for his allies Russia and Iran.
“If the U.S. were to withdraw, it seems to me the Russians would have a free hand” in Syria and the forces “fighting Assad would be weakened,” Ingela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University, told CNN on Friday.
Tillerson expressed concerns about Iran in a January speech.
“U.S. disengagement from Syria would provide Iran the opportunity to further strengthen its position in Syria,” he said. “Iran seeks dominance in the Middle East and the destruction of our ally, Israel. As a destabilized nation and one bordering Israel, Syria presents an opportunity that Iran is all too eager to exploit.”
President Trump speaks in Richfield, Ohio, Thursday.