Trump freezes $200m for rebuilding Syria as he signals troop withdrawal
Saudi crown prince urges mid- to long-term US presence in Syria
Fewer than 24 hours after indicating that US troops in Syria could be leaving “very soon”, President Donald Trump froze more than $200 million in reconstruction funds for the country and called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss developments.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Mr Trump has ordered his government to freeze “more than $200m in funds for recovery efforts in Syria” as he reassesses America’s broader role in the conflict.
Mr Trump “called for the freeze after reading a news report noting that the US had recently committed an additional $200m to support early recovery efforts in Syria” the report said. The amount was pledged by departing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at a Kuwait conference last month.
The freeze came hours after Mr Trump announced his intention to pull 2000 troops out of Syria.
"We'll be coming out of Syria very soon. Let the other people take care of it now,” he said at a rally in Ohio on Thursday. Mr Trump also said: “We're going to have 100 per cent of the [ISIL] caliphate, as they call it, sometimes referred to as land. We're taking it all back.”
The news followed the killing of a US soldier by a roadside bomb in Northern Syria.
The president discussed Syria with his Turkish counterpart on Friday, in the second call between them in less than 10 days.
The White House said that Mr Trump and Mr Erdogan spoke about “regional developments and the strategic partnership” and that they “expressed support for continued efforts to increase cooperation between their two countries, to advance shared interests as Nato allies, and to work through issues that affect the bilateral relationship”.
The Trump government appears to be looking for other sources to fund stabilisation and recovery efforts in Syria.
The Washington Post reported in mid-March that Mr Trump had asked Saudi Arabia’s King Salman for $4 billion in stabilisation aid to hasten US exit from Syria, but it is unclear if such a deal materialised.
US officials told The Washington Post that they “have convinced Mr Trump that the US military cannot remove its troops from Northern Syria in part because of Iran.”
In an interview with Time magazine, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is visiting the US, urged continued presence for US troops in Syria. “We believe American troops should stay for at least the mid-term, if not the long-term” he said.
Prince Mohammed added: “If you take those troops out from east Syria, you will lose that checkpoint,” blocking an Iranian corridor at the moment. “And this corridor could create a lot of things in the region.”
Updated: March 31, 2018 02:40 PM