Trump Administration Is In No Hurry To Leave Syria, U.S. Envoy Says

12 hours ago
Originally published on September 7, 2018 8:20 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Trump administration is in no hurry to leave Syria. That's the message from the State Department's new point person on that war. The U.S. troops are there to defeat ISIS, but the Trump administration has another goal now, too, to get Iranian-led forces out of Syria. And the U.S. needs Russia's help for that. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Sitting down with a small group of reporters, the new representative on Syria, James Jeffrey, pulls out his talking points. And he describes in more detail than we've heard before what President Trump said to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, about Syria.

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JAMES JEFFREY: And the president made clear to President Putin that the United States is determined to maintain a presence in Syria in order to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS and is committed to the strategic goal of diminishing and ultimately seeing an end to Iranian forces and proxies in Syria. So that means that we're not in a hurry to pull out.

KELEMEN: The president himself has indicated he wants to bring U.S. troops home. He's also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that was meant to help Syrians recover in areas once controlled by ISIS. But Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Iraq, says President Trump is on board with this new commitment. He's vowing a big diplomatic push to resolve the war.

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JEFFREY: Every group and country we are working with has somewhat different agendas than we do. They all require constant diplomacy.

KELEMEN: Take the situation around Idlib, a rebel-held area in Northern Syria and home to hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled from elsewhere in the country. Russia and Iran are vowing to help the Syrian government crush what they call terrorists there. Jeffrey calls that a reckless escalation and says Turkey, which has troops in the area, is worried, too.

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JEFFREY: I think the last chapter of the Idlib story has not yet been written because the Turks are trying to find a way out.

KELEMEN: The Turks are talking to Iran and Russia. And Jeffrey says the Turks are pushing for a more targeted operation against one militant group. He says the U.S. could help and is asking for permission to operate there, though he wouldn't specify what U.S. forces would be doing.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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