US: No Syria reconstruction aid if Iran stays

Syria’s civil war has killed close to 365,000 people since 2011 and has caused massive destruction. (AFP)
Updated 11 October 2018
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US: No Syria reconstruction aid if Iran stays

  • The US has about 2,000 troops in Syria, primarily to train and advise forces other than Daesh
  • The US funding threats are unlikely to make an immediate impact in Syria

WASHINGTON: The US said Wednesday it will refuse any post-war reconstruction assistance to Syria if Iran is present, expanding the rationale for US involvement in the conflict.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo vowed an aggressive push to counter Iran across the Middle East and said that Syria was a decisive battleground.
“The onus for expelling Iran from the country falls on the Syrian government, which bears responsibility for its presence there,” Pompeo told the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.
“If Syria doesn’t ensure the total withdrawal of Iranian-backed troops, it will not receive one single dollar from the US for reconstruction,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo’s speech effectively broadens the official explanation for why the US is involved in Syria’s civil war, which a monitoring group says has killed close to 365,000 people since 2011.
Former president Barack Obama authorized military action with the goal of rooting out the Daesh group, the extremist force that has boasted of a slew of grisly attacks both in Syria and the West.
The US has about 2,000 troops in Syria, primarily to train and advise forces other than Daesh that are waging an increasingly precarious fight to topple President Bashar Al-Assad.
Pompeo acknowledged that Assad was stronger thanks to Iranian and Russian help and said that, with Daesh “beaten into a shadow of its former self,” new priorities had emerged.
“Defeating Daesh, which was once our primary focus, continues to be a priority. But it will now be joined by two other mutually reinforcing objectives,” Pompeo said.
“These include a peaceful political resolution to the Syrian conflict and the removal of all Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from Syria.”
The US funding threats are unlikely to make an immediate impact in Syria.
But Pompeo’s speech marks a new sign that the US is not leaving Syria anytime soon after President Donald Trump, a onetime critic of foreign interventions, earlier this year mused aloud about withdrawing troops.
Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, a longtime hawk on Iran, told reporters last month that US troops would stay “as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders.”
Iran, ruled by Shiite Muslim clerics, has deployed both troops and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah to prop up Assad, a secular leader who belongs to the Alawite sect and is facing down hardline Sunni Muslim forces.
“Iran has seen instability in Syria as a golden opportunity to tip the regional balance of power in its favor,” Pompeo said.
He warned that Iran, a sworn foe of Israel, would open a new front against the Jewish state if it remained in Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has similarly warned that he will never accept an Iranian presence in Syria.
Trump has withdrawn from an international agreement negotiated under Obama through which Iran slashed its sensitive nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief. Pompeo boasted that Trump has imposed on Iran “some of the harshest sanctions in history.”


Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 21 March 2019
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Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to "send home in coffins" visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the "vile" and "offensive" remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims. 

"He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”

In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.