Middle East

‘Netanyahu, Trump clash over early Syria withdrawal plan’

A recent telephone conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump grew tense over Trump’s earlier expression of his tendency to withdraw US forces from Syria “very soon,” according to two US officials.

Netanyahu and Trump discussed regional developments over the phone on Wednesday, according to the official account from the United States.

But two unidentified US officials said later that Netanyahu had objected to Trump’s remark that he would like US forces out of Syria shortly, according to The Times of Israel.

There were no more details on the give-and-take between the Israeli prime minister and the US president.

On March 29, Trump said the US would “be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”

The US has reportedly more than 2,000 troops stationed in eastern Syria, in addition to several thousand others in the Arab country’s north.

“We spent $7 trillion in the Middle East. And you know what we have for it? Nothing,” Trump said.

Other US officials have since been attempting to walk back Trump’s remarks, which had already been in contrast to the mainstream US position.

Just on Friday, the Pentagon sounded differently from Trump, saying the American military plans in Syria remained unchanged.

On April 3, Trump also signaled that countries that wanted the US to remain in Syria would have to pay for that presence, singling out Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia is very interested in our decision, and I said, ‘Well, you want us to stay, maybe you’re going to have to pay,’” he told reporters at the White House. “We do a lot of things in this country. We do [them] for a lot of reasons, but it’s very costly for our country and it helps other countries a hell of a lot more than it helps us. So we’re going to be making a decision.”

The Israeli prime minister’s objection to Trump’s stated Syria plan came despite reassurances by US officials that Trump has changed his mind.

Apart from the troops on the ground, the US and a number of its allies have been bombarding what they say are Daesh positions inside Syria since September 2014, without any authorization from the Damascus government or the United Nations.

After the Wednesday telephone conversation between Netanyahu and Trump, a White House statement said, “President Trump reiterated the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security,” and that “the two leaders agreed to continue their close coordination on countering Iran’s malign influence and destabilizing activities.”

Netanyahu later tweeted that he had “thanked President Trump for his commitment to Israel’s security and America’s support for Israel at the United Nations.”

Neither of the official accounts referred to the tense moments of the conversation.

Unlike the US and its allies, Iran and Russia have government-authorized advisory presence in Syria. Israel has attempted to portray Iranian advisory assistance to Damascus as an attempt at spreading its regional influence, which Iran has consistently denied.

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