US President Donald Trump speaks during a bilateral meeting with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 26, 2018.
(photo credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump acknowledged on Wednesday that Iranian forces have been emboldened in Syria, amid widespread concern over his decision to hastily withdraw US troops from the battlefield there.
Blaming the balance of power in Syria on his predecessor, Barack Obama, Trump said the country was “lost long ago” and that he did not want the US military fighting there forever.
“We’re talking about sand and death,” he stated. “We’re not talking about vast wealth.”
Israeli officials have expressed alarm at the president’s policy ever since he announced last month a rapid withdrawal of roughly 2,000 troops stationed in the country’s eastern provinces. The move led to the resignations of Trump’s defense secretary, James Mattis, and his top counter-Islamic State official, Brett McGurk.
Trump claimed Iran was suffering under US sanctions renewed since he withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal with international powers, but he did admit that they remain a powerful presence in Syria. He spoke in the Cabinet Room of the White House with a movie-style poster promoting his sanctions laid out before him on the conference table.
“They’re pulling people out of Syria, but they can do what they want there, frankly,” he said.
Israel worries that Iran is constructing a “land bridge” connecting resources and military forces from Tehran all the way to the Mediterranean Sea through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, taking advantage of broken local governments and American retreats.
Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, who has claimed that ejecting Iran from Syria is a top administration priority, sat behind the president stone-faced as he spoke.
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