Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Prince Mohammad has said he wants America to maintain a presence in Syria. This comes despite President Donald Trump’s declaration that US forces will be pulled from the country in the near future.
In an interview with Time magazine, the Crown Prince said: “We believe US troops should stay for at least the mid-term, if not the long-term.”
Prince Mohammad branded the US presence in Syria the last effort at stopping Iran’s regional expansion.
He also said that through its regional proxies, Iran will be able to set up an overland supply route from Beirut through Syria and Iraq to Tehran, giving the regime a strong foothold in the region.
The US maintains a remote base at Deir Al Zor in eastern Syria that lies in the middle of the Iranian corridor. Washington coordinates its anti-Daesh operations from this base. “If you take those troops out from east Syria, you will lose that checkpoint,” Prince Mohammad said. “And this corridor could create a lot of things in the region.”
Prince Mohammad said Al Assad is not likely to be ousted from power. He said he hopes that Al Assad will not become a “puppet” for Tehran. “Bashar is staying,” he said. “But I believe that Bashar’s interests is not to let the Iranians do whatever they want they want to do.”
The crown prince made his Syria remarks hours after Trump told a crowd in Ohio that US troops will soon be pulled out. “By the way, we’re knocking the hell out of [Daesh],” Trump said. “We’re coming out of Syria very soon. Let the other people take care of it now, very soon. Very soon, we’re coming out.”
Trump’s comments were a departure from the previous positions of Pentagon and State Department officials, who have said the US will keep troops inside the country to kill the last remaining Daesh fighters and prevent the formation of another group. Only 14 US troops have been killed fighting Daesh in Iraq and Syria since the operation began four years ago.
A National Security Council meeting is set for early next week to discuss the US-led campaign against Daesh in Syria, according to US officials familiar with the plan.
Two other administration officials confirmed a Wall Street Journal report on Friday that said Trump had ordered the State Department to freeze more than $200 million in funds for recovery efforts in Syria while his administration reassesses Washington’s role in the conflict there.
Trump called for the freeze after reading a news report that the US had recently committed an additional $200 million to stabilise areas recaptured from Daesh, the paper said.
The funding was announced by departing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in February at a meeting in Kuwait of the global coalition against Daesh.
A spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council said that “in line with the President’s guidance, the Department of State continually re-evaluates appropriate assistance levels and how best they might be utilised, which they do on an ongoing basis.”
There are currently about 2,000 US troops working with Syrian Democratic Forces to re-capture territory from Daesh. Trump’s recent appointment of John Bolton, who has been an outspoken critic of Iran’s regional dominance, as National Security Adviser may re-shape American foreign policy towards Tehran.