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U.S. troops will not leave Syria until ISIS does, Trump adviser says

During a trip to Israel on Sunday, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton announced that American troops would remain in Syria until the Islamic State is fully eradicated, scaling back an announcement from President Trump last month. "Effectively, Americans aren’t going anywhere," Nahal Toosi, a foreign affairs correspondent at POLITICO, told Hari Sreenivasan, joining him from Washington, D.C.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    In Jerusalem today National Security Adviser John Bolton told reporters there is no timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. The first public confirmation that President Trumps plan to bring all 2000 troops home is slowing down. Bolton toured Jerusalem's old city today after meetings with Israeli officials. He said U.S. troops will come home based on conditions being met including the defeat of what remains of ISIS in Syria and the protection of Kurdish militias who have fought alongsideU.S. troops. Tomorrow Bolton travels to Turkey for more talks on Syria. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will leave on an eight-country tour of the Middle East on Tuesday. Joining us now from Washington, D.C. for more on the Trump administration's Mideast diplomacy is Nahal Toosi, foreign affairs correspondent for Politico. First let's talk about our pullout strategy from Syria.

  • Nahal Toosi:

    You know this is like the big question that everyone is still trying to get an answer to. The latest thing that we have heard is that John Bolton President Donald Trump's national security adviser was in Israel and he said that it's going to be entirely conditions-based, meaning that the U.S. won't leave until ISIS is fully eradicated and that it can have a pledge from the Turks not to attack the Kurds effectively. That's kind of made it an indefinite deployment which is the opposite of what President Trump said just a few weeks ago, in which he declared that if it had been defeated and that the U.S. troops were coming home. So in a way we're back at square one and there's just ongoing confusion.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So you are in the middle of last month he said that we had won. The troops are going to come home right away. And then about two weeks after right at the beginning of the year that timeline extended to four months and now you're saying it could be indefinite. What does that do to all of the allies that are in the fight against ISIS?

  • Nahal Toosi:

    Well, I would think that some of them are breathing a sigh of relief the idea that the U.S. is going to be withdrawing completely was deeply angering to folks like the Kurds and other allies who were fighting the Islamic State. And you know have either grievances with the Syrian government or were trying to say to some extent neutral and having the U.S. It was really important they spoke. So the idea that the U.S. was just going to leave immediately without a real thought out plan for what comes afterward was deeply alarming. And so now the idea that the U.S. will leave on a conditions based approach. One of those conditions being the full eradication of ISIS I would think would make them very happy because it effectively means the Americans are not going anywhere.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Mike Pompeo, John Bolton also have other tasks they're also trying to figure out how to message how we feel about Iran and their roles and responsibilities in the region.

  • Nahal Toosi:

    That's right. I mean if there's one thing this administration has been very consistent about it's the messaging it has done on Iran that the U.S. wants to see a rollback of Iranian influence in the Middle East that Iran's malign activities must be stopped. Now the one person that occasionally throws a wrench into all of this is President Trump who just the other day said that Iran can do whatever it wants in Syria. That really undercuts his own aides. But again this is all mainly rhetoric what really matters is policy. And so far at least the U.S. hasn't been withdrawing from Syria and you know it's still continuing its sanctions and doing other things to try to contain Iran and therefore that that has been fairly consistent.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And finally in brief what were the Saudi Arabia play into all of this? Their role in Yemen and also the death of Jamal Khashoggi any consequences?

  • Nahal Toosi:

    Well we know that when Pompe visits the Middle East in the coming week he's going to be going to Saudi Arabia and he's going to be raising the issue of Jamal Khashoggi and what is being done to hold the perpetrators of his murder accountable. The State Department does not feel as if the Saudis have done enough on that front. But once again they still believe Saudi Arabia is a critical ally against Iran and they will do what they can to keep Saudi Arabia in theU.S. embrace and also push it to try to bring the conflict in Yemen to an end.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right, Nahal Toosi, of Politico, joining us from Washington tonight. Thanks so much.

  • Nahal Toosi:

    Thank you.

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