Middle East experts fear that President Donald Trump may sell out the Syrian opposition, when he meets with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on July 11.

President Trump is eager to remove thousands of U.S. troops from Syria. CNN reported that Trump reiterated, during a Monday meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, his long-time desire to bring home roughly 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria. Trump also wants Russia to not attack the small contingent of U.S.-backed fighters in southwest Syria, which leaves room for negotiation.  


Experts worry that Trump may exchange favors with Putin. For example, Trump could agree not to impede Russia’s efforts to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he gains further control of southwest Syria. That would mean Assad, who has killed thousands of civilians with chemical weapons, would consolidate even more power in his country’s seven-year-long civil war.

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Another scenario was suggested by Fred Hof, special adviser of former President Barack Obama for a transition in Syria, to VOX. “Putin will try to enlist Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah to the cause, promising them and Trump he’ll keep Assad from doing his worst in southwest Syria, where Jordan fears new refugee flows and Israel wants no Iranian-Hezbollah presence,” Hof said. “Trump may be tempted to leave northeast Syria to the regime and Iran, claiming he worked a marvelous deal to secure Israel and Jordan in the southwest. And, then, Putin will help Assad consolidate power in both places, enabling Iran and Hezbollah to emerge as the big winners.”

But Moscow has not proven to be  trustworthy in helping to de-escalate violence in Syria. “Trump wants to replicate the disastrous deal with Putin from July 2017, when they agreed on a ‘de-escalation agreement,” Michael Carpenter, the Pentagon’s top Russia official in President Barack Obama’s administration, tweeted on Friday. “The only side that de-escalated was the anti-Assad opposition, while Russian, Iranian, and Syrian government forces annihilated them.”

Trump’s top advisors on Syria have shown their concern about pulling the troops out of Syria. “We are in Syria to fight ISIS,” told Brett McGurk, the State Department’s top official leading the anti-ISIS coalition, told reporters. “That is our mission. That mission isn’t over. And we’re going to complete that mission.”

At the point of the U.S. withdrawal, experts worry, that not only would the mission against ISIS end prematurely, but the U.S. would also accelerate the return of Syria to Assad and Putin — putting even more thousands of lives at risk. A nearly four-year effort against Islamist extremism would be wasted.

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