Top Trump Officials to Visit Israel This Week to Talk Syria War, Iran's Mideast Presence

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File photo: An Israeli soldier near the Israel-Syria border, July 17, 2018.
File photo: An Israeli soldier near the Israel-Syria border, July 17, 2018.Credit: \ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

WASHINGTON - Two senior Trump administration officials in charge of U.S. policy on Syria will arrive in Israel this week to discuss recent developments in the Syrian civil war and the attempts to remove Iran's presence in the region.

The State Department announced on Friday that the two officials will also visit Jordan and Turkey over the next four days.

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The two officials are Ambassador James Jeffrey, the State Department's recently appointed special representative for Syria, and Joel Rayburn, who is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department. Jeffrey was previously an American ambassador to Iraq and Turkey under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Rayburn is a Colonel in the U.S. Military who previously worked for the White House National Security Council.

This will be Jeffrey's first trip to the Middle East since he was appointed to handle the Syria file by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month. The State Department did not elaborate on the meetings he and Rayburn will have during their time in Israel, saying only they will be held with "senior government officials." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be among the attendees at the meetings.

The discussion will focus on "our shared interest, in reference to Syria, in maintaining Israel’s security while countering Iran’s destabilizing activity throughout the region. They will also underscore that the United States will respond to any chemical weapons attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime," according to the statement.

In Jordan, Jeffrey and Rayburn are expected to meet Jordanian King Abdullah and commend him and his country for "their continued compassion for those affected by the Syrian conflict." Jordan has taken in millions of refugees from the Syrian civil war since it broke out seven years ago.

Jeffery and Rayburn's visit will take place at the same time that the Assad regime, backed by Iran and Russia, is preparing for a major military offensive against the Idlib province in northwest Syria, one of the last strongholds of the Sunni rebels in Syria.

A battle in Idlib is expected to claim thousands of lives. The two U.S. officials will "reiterate" during their trip the American position that "a military offensive in Idlib will escalate the crisis in Syria and the region, risk the lives of humanitarians and Syrian civilians, and destroy civilian infrastructure."

In recent weeks, senior U.S. officials have stated that while both Russia and the United States agree with Israel's position that Iran needs to get out of Syria, it is unrealistic for Russia to force Iran out of the country at the current time. This issue is also expected to come up in the discussions during the two envoys' visit.

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