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

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.”


Lebanese patriarch warns of crisis without a government after Adib steps down

Updated 27 September 2020

Lebanese patriarch warns of crisis without a government after Adib steps down

  • Al-Rai said Adib’s resignation had ‘disappointed citizens, especially the youth’
  • Frustration at Adib’s failure to form government was voiced by Lebanon’s religious communities

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s top Christian cleric said on Sunday the nation faced “multiple dangers” that would be hard to weather without a government, speaking a day after the prime minister-designate quit following his failed bid to form a cabinet.
Mustapha Adib stepped down on Saturday after hitting a roadblock over how to make appointments in the sectarian system, striking a blow to a French initiative that aimed to haul the nation out of its deepest crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who had pressed Lebanon’s fractious politicians to reach a consensus so that Adib was named on Aug. 31, is to due to speak about the crisis in a news conference in Paris later on Sunday.
Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, leader of the Maronite church, Lebanon’s biggest Christian community, said Adib’s resignation had “disappointed citizens, especially the youth, who were betting on the start of change in the political class.”
Many top politicians, both Christian and Muslim, have held sway for years or even decades. Some are former warlords.
Rai said Lebanon now had to navigate “multiple dangers” without a government at the helm.
Rai’s comments were echoed on the streets of Beirut, where mass protests erupted in 2019 as years of mismanagement, corruption and mounting debts finally led to economic collapse, paralysing banks and sending the currency into freefall.
“There needs to be fundamental change. We need new people. We need new blood,” said 24-year-old Hassan Amer, serving coffee from a roadside cafe in the capital, which was hammered by a huge port blast on Aug. 4 that killed almost 200 people.
In nearby streets, walls were still plastered with graffiti from the protests, including the popular call for sweeping out the old guard: “All of them means all of them.”
Frustration at the failure of Adib, a Sunni Muslim, to form a government was voiced by many across Lebanon’s religious communities. Prime ministers under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system must be Sunnis.
A senior Shiite Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Qabalan, said on Saturday Adib’s resignation as the economy collapsed could “be described as a disaster,” calling for national unity to deliver reforms, the state news agency reported.
The cabinet formation effort stumbled after Lebanon’s two main Shiite groups, Amal and the heavily armed Iran-backed Hezbollah, demanded they name several ministers, including finance, a key role as the nation draws up a rescue plan.
Saad Al-Hariri, a former prime minister and leading Sunni politician, said in a statement he would not be involved in naming any new premier and said the French plan was “the last and only opportunity to halt Lebanon’s collapse.”
A French roadmap laid out a reform program for a new government to help trigger billions of dollars of international aid.