President Donald Trump will cancel $200 million worth of foreign aid that had been set aside for “stabilization” projects in Syria, a significant step towards reducing Washington’s involvement in the conflict there.
The White House is set to notify lawmakers Friday of the decision to withhold the funding and spend it elsewhere, the Associated Press reported, citing administration officials familiar with the move.
The $200 million in recovery aid was first pledged by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at a February meeting of the US.-led coalition to defeat ISIS. But just weeks later, the White House ordered the State Department to delay the funds pending the outcome of a spending review.
The cancellation of stabilization funding is in line with Trump’s inclination to avoid a leading role in the Syrian war. While he has stopped short of withdrawing the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops deployed to Syria, he has repeatedly signaled a desire to let other governments take the lead in post-war reconstruction. (RELATED: Trump Cuts ‘Stabilization’ Funding For Part Of Syria)
The loss of U.S. funding will be more than offset by an additional $300 million pledged by coalition partners, including $100 million from Saudi Arabia, according to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.
“Many coalition partners have made pledges and contributions in recent months and the United States appreciates all partners who have stepped up to support this critical effort,” she told the AP.
The proper extent of U.S. involvement in Syria has been an open question in Washington for several years, but the debate has taken on new urgency as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad nears victory in the seven-year war. Backed by Russian and Iranian forces, Assad has regained control of most of central and southern Syria, leaving only pockets of rebel territory in the northwest and a U.S.-backed Kurdish autonomous region in the east. (RELATED: Assad Takes City Where Syrian Uprising Was Born Seven Years Ago)
In a nod to the changing balance of power, the White House plans to tap James Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey, to be a special envoy for Syria. A career foreign service officer, Jeffrey will hold the title of “special representative for Syrian engagement” and report directly to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the AP reported.
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