Saturday 21 September 2019

Trump boasts of Isil 'defeat' and prepares for Syria exit

On the move: Syrian Democratic Forces and US troops are seen during a patrol near the Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria. Photo: REUTERS/Rodi Said
On the move: Syrian Democratic Forces and US troops are seen during a patrol near the Turkish border in Hasakah, Syria. Photo: REUTERS/Rodi Said

Ed Sanchez

Donald Trump has declared the US has "defeated" the Islamic State (Isil) and is reportedly preparing to immediately withdraw all American forces from Syria.

"We have defeated [Isil] in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump presidency," Mr Trump said on Twitter.

The decision could undermine the effort to wipe out the last vestiges of the jihadis, as well as US hopes of countering Iran's presence in Syria.

The US has around 2,000 troops in Syria and has begun informing American allies of the withdrawal, according to the reports.

The decision appears to show Mr Trump has decided to follow his own instincts over the advice of US security officials, who believed it was important to maintain a long-term presence in Syria.

Mr Trump said in March that US forces would be "coming out of Syria like very soon" but was persuaded not to order an immediate pull-out.

As recently as September, US officials said Mr Trump was committed to an ambitious policy of staying in Syria until the end of the civil war to prevent Iran from extending its reach in the Middle East.

The decision is likely to dismay America's Kurdish allies, who have been fighting alongside US troops to drive Isil fighters from their last pockets of territory in eastern Syria.

The American military presence has somewhat shielded them from attacks by Turkey, which considers most of America's Kurdish partners to be terrorists. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, has been threatening to launch a new offensive against the Kurds in northern Syria.

The decision is also likely to be a frustration for Israel, which saw the US presence in Syria as a way of counterbalancing Iran's own deployment in the country.

Israel has carried out dozens of airstrikes against Iranian and Hezbollah sites in Syria as part of its policy of trying to prevent Iranian entrenchment in the country.

Separately yesterday, it was reported that Mr Trump signed a letter of intent to begin negotiations over building a Trump Tower in Russia, a leaked document has revealed, despite the president's lawyer insisting no such signature existed.

The 2015 letter, obtained by CNN, was a precursor for planned talks between the Trump Organisation and IC Expert Investment, the Russian firm that would have been responsible for developing the project.

On Sunday, Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump's lawyer and chief representative on TV, admitted the existence of the letter, but insisted "no one signed it".

Mr Trump himself appeared to refer to the letter in November, suggesting it had been signed instead by his former lawyer Michael Cohen.

"I don't even remember it," he said.

But the document, which has been made public, does appear to feature the president's idiosyncratic signature, as well as that of Andrey Rozov, owner of IC Expert Investment.

On the 2016 presidential campaign trail, Mr Trump denied having any business interests in Russia, claiming repeatedly he had "nothing to do" with the country.

But the project, which was ultimately scrapped, would have handed the Trump Organisation a $4m (€3.5m) fee, a cut of future sales, and control over marketing and design of what would have been condominiums, a hotel and commercial space in the heart of Moscow.

It would also have given the Trumps the opportunity to name the hotel spa after Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka.

Mr Cohen admitted last month he misled Congress when he claimed talks on the tower had ended months before his then-boss won the Republican Party's presidential candidacy in June 2016.

Court documents filed by the special counsel investigating Trump team links to Russia show Mr Cohen had discussed plans for the tower "as late as approximately June 2016", and had done so directly with the president multiple times.

Last week, Mr Giuliani suggested conversations between Mr Trump and Mr Cohen over the deal may have even gone on until November of that year, the month of the election. The publication of the letter vindicates Mr Cohen, who told congress in 2017 Mr Trump had signed the document. Donald Trump Jr also testified it had been signed by his father.

The Moscow project is important because it was being pursued with Russian officials while Mr Trump was forging ahead in the race to become president. During that time, he praised the Russian president as "brilliant" and a "strong leader", and said he would have a "great relationship" with the Kremlin.

The White House has been contacted for comment.

Irish Independent

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