US’s Pompeo adamant on Syria pullout

Mike Pompeo
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US troops will leave Syria, secretary of state Mike Pompeo insisted on Thursday, ahead of a keynote speech aiming to lay out a coherent US policy in the Middle East.

President Donald Trump’s “decision to withdraw our troops has been made.

“We will do that. We will withdraw our forces, our uniformed forces, from Syria and continue America’s crushing campaign,” Pompeo said.

Washington’s top diplomat was speaking at a joint press conference with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shukry, on the third leg of a key Middle East tour.

He also met earlier with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after arriving in Cairo late on Wednesday on his longest trip since taking office in 2018 which has already taken him to Jordan, Baghdad and Arbil.

His tour is aimed at urging regional allies to continue to confront the “significant threats” posed by Iran and Islamic jihadists despite Trump’s shock decision last month to pull all 2,000 American troops from Syria.

But the muddled pronouncements from the Trump administration, which swiftly walked back the planned withdrawal from Syria, have triggered regional concern.

A senior state department official insisted ahead of the trip that the US would “not leave the Middle East”.

The whistle-stop tour will also take Pompeo to Gulf countries including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

As he arrived in Egypt, the state department described the country as a “steadfast partner in the anti-terror fight, and a courageous voice in denouncing the radical Islamist ideology that fuels it”.

But there are rising concerns that US policy is getting bogged down. A long-promised proposed Trump plan for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians has so far failed to materialise.

And many of the Trump administration’s decisions have stoked confusion and angered many regional allies.

Turkey and the US are now at loggerheads over the future of Syrian Kurdish forces, considered by Ankara as terrorists, after the troop pullout.

Turkish officials had a tense meeting this week with Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, in Ankara aimed at co-ordinating the pullout process after Bolton set conditions that appeared to postpone it indefinitely.

The terms included total defeat of IS – still active in some Syrian regions – and ensuring that Kurdish fighters who fought alongside the Americans against the jihadists would be protected.

On Thursday, Turkey renewed its threat to launch an offensive against Kurds.

Ahead of his visit to Saudi Arabia, Pompeo is also expected to confirm the strength of the US alliance with Saudi Arabia, despite the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whose killing was blamed on the powerful Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman by the US Senate.