Executive Summary for April 16th

We review the key events in Syria, including mixed messages over whether the U.S. will stay in Syria, Assad’s allies warning that Western strikes have undermined prospects for a political settlement and the Syrian army saying Eastern Ghouta is clear of militants.

Published on April 16, 2018 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Mixed Messages Over U.S. Role in Syria After Missile Strike

United States ambassador Nikki Haley said on Sunday that the U.S. would not pull out of Syria soon because Washington’s involvement in the country “is not done,” the Associated Press reported.

Haley said on Sunday that the U.S. would not leave Syria until three goals were accomplished: The U.S. ensures that chemical weapons are not used in a way that could harm U.S. national interests, the [so-called] Islamic State group is defeated and there is a good vantage point to watch what Iran is doing.

“We’re not going to leave until we know we’ve accomplished those things,” she said.

The comments by the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. come weeks after U.S. president Donald Trump promised to pull out Washington’s approximately 2,000 troops from the country. They also come one day after the U.S., the United Kingdom and France launched more than 100 cruise and air-to-ground missiles against Syria as part of a joint operation targeting the Syrian government’s alleged chemical weapon capabilities.

French president Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that he had convinced Trump to allow U.S. forces to stay in Syria. “Ten days ago, President Trump wanted to withdraw from Syria. We convinced him to remain,” he was quoted as saying.

However, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Sunday that Trump’s pull-out plans had not changed. “The U.S. mission has not changed – the president has been clear that he wants U.S. forces to come home as quickly as possible,” she said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Trump did not give any concrete indication that he would walk back on his earlier promises to pull out U.S. troops. Commenting on Saturday’s strikes, he said that the U.S. was “prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.” But he did not say whether this means that U.S. forces would stay in Syria.

Putin Warns of Global ‘Chaos’ if West Strikes Syria Again

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned on Sunday that “chaos in international relations,” would ensue if the West carries out further attacks on Syria, according to Reuters.

The comments by Putin come one day after the United Kingdom and France launched more than 100 cruise and air-to-ground missiles on Syria as part of a joint operation targeting the Syrian government’s alleged chemical weapon capabilities.

Putin also spoke by phone with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on Sunday, according to the Associated Press. The two presidents agreed the Western airstrikes were an “illegal action … adversely impacting prospects for political settlement in Syria,” the Kremlin said.

Citing the IRNA news agency, the AP quoted Rouhani as saying that the U.S. and “some Western countries do not want Syria to reach permanent stability.”

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, also said that Saturday’s attack undermined attempts to broker a political solution for Syria. “If the goal was to pressure Syria to expedite a political solution, I think what happened will complicate the political solution and will strain international relations and the Geneva track, if not torpedo Geneva altogether,” he told an election rally in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said on Saturday that France and Germany are pushing for a new international effort to achieve lasting peace in Syria, according to Reuters.

“We will work together with France for the creation of an international format of influential states that can provide new momentum for the political process,” Maas was quoted as saying.

Syrian Army Says Eastern Ghouta Cleared of Militants

The Syrian military announced on Saturday that the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus were free of militants after the last batch of rebel fighters evacuated the town of Douma, Reuters reported.

Russia announced last week that the Syrian government was in full control of Douma, but Saturday’s military statement marks the first time the Syrian army has confirmed that the region is free of rebel forces.

“All the terrorists have left Douma city, their last bastion in Eastern Ghouta,” the statement said.

The evacuations are part of a Russian-mediated deal brokered between the Jaish al-Islam rebel group and the Syrian government. Under the agreement, the Syrian government grants rebels safe exit to northern Syria in return for the release of hundreds of hostages and prisoners held by the group. The deal also grants an offer of reconciliation for those rebels who wish to stay in Douma.

The capture of Douma brings the entire Eastern Ghouta region under government control for the first time since 2012. It also marks the end of a nearly two-month-long government campaign that has killed more than 1,600 people.

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