Trump says Iran can ‘do whatever they want’ in Syria

US President Donald Trump stunned allies yesterday when he said the US was getting out of Syria and Iran could do whatever it wanted there.

Speaking to reporters at the end of a cabinet meeting in the White House, President Trump said: “Iran is no longer the same country … Iran is pulling people out of Syria. They can do what they want there, frankly, but they’re pulling people out. They’re pulling people out of Yemen. Iran wants to survive now.” He refused to give an exact date for the complete removal of US troops from Syria, which he announced last month against the advice of top national security aides, saying only that it will happen “over a period of time”.

Trump defended his decision to withdraw US forces from Syria, saying: “Syria was lost long ago. We’re not talking about vast wealth. We’re talking about sand and death. I’m getting out, we’re getting out of Syria. Look, we don’t want Syria.” He added: “The Kurds, our partners are selling oil to Iran. I’m not thrilled about that, I’m not happy about it at all.”

Trump also said that his decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal stymied Tehran’s efforts to destabilise the region. “Iran was going to take over everything and destroy Israel while they’re at it … They’re having riots every week in every country. I’d love to negotiate with Iran … but Iran is a much different country right now.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in Brasilia yesterday to discuss what State Department spokesman Robert Palladino described as: “The unacceptable threat that regional aggression and provocation by Iran and its agents poses to Israeli and regional security.” An Israeli official said Israel got “almost everything it wanted” from the meeting. Pompeo told Netanyahu that the withdrawal of US military forces from Syria “in no way changes anything this administration is working on alongside Israel”.

Pompeo also referred to Israel’s Operation Northern Shield to detect and destroy Hezbollah tunnels dug under the Lebanon-Israel border. He said the US could appreciate the threat the structures posed to Israeli sovereignty.

According to the Israeli official, the only issue of disagreement was US unease about the proposed Israeli sale of F-16 aircraft to Croatia worth $500m. The aircraft have reportedly been upgraded with Israeli technology and the US wants Israel to return the aircraft to their original condition before transferring them to Croatia. The Croatian government has demanded the “Israeli version” — or it will cancel the deal.