US won’t aid Syria unless Iranian forces leave

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has vowed not to give “one single dollar” of reconstruction assistance to Syria if Iranian military forces remain in the country.

Speaking to the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, Pompeo said: “The onus for expelling Iran from the country falls on the Syrian government, which bears responsibility for its presence there. If Syria doesn’t ensure the total withdrawal of Iranian-backed troops, it will not receive one single dollar from the United States for reconstruction.”

In August US President Donald Trump cancelled a planned $230m donation for Syria’s immediate reconstruction, after pledges by Gulf Arab allies. The Syrian regime has estimated it could cost up to $400bn to rebuild the country after the civil war.

The US has 2,200 troops in Syria, nearly all of them devoted to fighting ISIS in the east of the country. In late September National Security Advisor John Bolton said the US will keep its military presence in the country until Iran withdraws its forces. The US presence also blocks the highway between the Syrian and Iraqi capitals, preventing Iran from transporting heavy weaponry and fighters across the border.

Pompeo promised more measures to isolate Iran, which “has seen instability in Syria as a golden opportunity to tip the regional balance of power in its favour”. He said the US is set to impose “some of the harshest sanctions in history”. He also told the audience that Israel, like all nations, has a right to defend its sovereignty and that it will “continue to stand up for its right to target Iranian-backed militias within Syria for as long as the threat remains”. In September the Israel Defence Forces admitted bombing more than 200 Iranian targets in Syria since 2017.