Senior Diplomatic Source: Trump Weighing Netanyahu Request for Gradual Syria Withdrawal

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U.S. Soldiers patrolling during a combined joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, November 1, 2018.
U.S. Soldiers patrolling during a combined joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, November 1, 2018.Credit: \ US ARMY/ REUTERS

RIO DE JANEIRO - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked American President Donald Trump to ensure that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria be done gradually, a senior political source said Monday. 

The source added that the U.S. president was "positively considering" the request. Talks are set to continue on Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and on Sunday with National Security Adviser John Bolton.

According to the source, who spoke with Israeli journalists during the premier's visit to Brazil, Netanyahu was told in advance of the plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Netanyahu held two talks with Trump and two with Pompeo, after which the military's chief of staff and the national security adviser spoke with their American counterparts.  

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The source did not provide details regarding the time frame of the troop withdrawal, but said that Trump said in April that the pullout would take place within several months. Netanyahu then called Trump and told him that he suggested stretching out the withdrawal. Trump followed suit, making the official announcement only earlier this month.

Trump said last week that his decision to leave the war-torn country will not have a negative impact on Israel, noting that "we give Israel $4.5 billion" security every year, and so "Israel will be very good."

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Speaking to reporters on the way back from a trip to American troops stationed in Iraq, Trump said: "I spoke with Bibi," he saidm, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "I told Bibi, you know we give Israel $4.5 billion a year. And they are doing very well at defending themselves."

He added, "I’m the one that moved the embassy to Jerusalem. I was the one who was willing to do that. So that’s the way it is – we are going to take great care of Israel. Israel is going to be good. We give Israel 4.5 billion a year. And we give frankly a lot more than that if you look at the books. They’ve been doing a good job.”

In an abrupt policy shift, Trump announced on December 19 that Washington would withdraw the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, upending a pillar of American policy in the Middle East and alarming U.S. allies.

In an unannounced trip to Iraq, Trump on Wednesday defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, where they have been helping battle Islamic State militants.

"I think that a lot of people are going to come around to my way of thinking. It's time for us to start using our head," Trump told reporters at the Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq.

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