Merkel warns US pullout from Syria risks boosting Iran, Russia

German chancellor plays down differences with Trump administration over nuclear deal, calls accord an ‘anchor’ allowing pressure on Tehran

German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech during the 55th Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on February 16, 2019. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech during the 55th Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, on February 16, 2019. (Thomas Kienzle/AFP)

MUNICH — German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Saturday that Washington’s plan to swiftly pull its soldiers out of Syria risks allowing Russia and Iran to boost their role in the region.

Islamic State jihadists have been boxed in to a scrap of land in the battle for their last remaining territory in northeastern Syria and their final defeat is expected imminently.

Once they are defeated, US forces are set to soon withdraw after President Donald Trump in December announced the pullout of around 2,000 troops.

But Washington is struggling to convince allies to stay on in Syria after it leaves and Merkel warned of the risks of leaving a vacuum in the region.

“Is it a good idea for the Americans to suddenly and quickly withdraw from Syria? Or will it once more strengthen the capacity of Iran and Russia to exert their influence?” Merkel said at the Munich Security Conference.

This file photo taken on December 30, 2018 shows a line of US military vehicles in Syria’s northern city of Manbij (Delil Souleiman/AFP)

US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Friday pledged ongoing backing for the fight against IS — but kept allies guessing as to how that would be achieved once American forces pull out, and won no solid pledges of support.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said the US had told partners in the global anti-IS coalition that its soldiers would leave in “weeks rather than months.”

The decision has stunned allies including France, which contributes artillery and about 1,200 forces in the region, including soldiers who train Iraqi troops.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian asked why the US would create a vacuum in Syria that could benefit its enemy Iran, calling the approach a “mystery.”

A French government source told AFP it was “totally out of the question” to have French troops on the ground without US forces.

French General Jean-Marc Vigilant (L) and French Defense Minister Florence Parly (2nd-L) talk to French soldiers engaged in the ‘Operation Chammal,’ the French military operation within ‘Operation Inherent Resolve,’ the international coalition against the Islamic State jihadist group, as they stand in front of a wheeled 155 mm howitzer gun on February 9, 2019, near Al-Qaim, Iraq. (Daphné Benoit/AFP)

In her remarks, Merkel also defended European powers’ decision to stand by the Iran nuclear deal, describing it as an “anchor” allowing the West to exert pressure.

US Vice President Mike Pence earlier this week accused Germany, France and Britain of trying to “break” American sanctions on Iran and called on them to follow Washington in pulling out of the nuclear deal.

Merkel said the split over Iran “depresses me very much,” but downplayed the substance of the differences.

She said: “I see the ballistic missile program, I see Iran in Yemen and above all I see Iran in Syria.”

But “the only question that stands between us on this issue is, do we help our common cause, our common aim of containing the damaging or difficult development of Iran, by withdrawing from the one remaining agreement? Or do we help it more by keeping the small anchor we have in order maybe to exert pressure in other areas?”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed
Register for free
and continue reading
Registering also lets you comment on articles and helps us improve your experience. It takes just a few seconds.
Already registered? Enter your email to sign in.
Please use the following structure:
Or Continue with
By registering you agree to the terms and conditions. Once registered, you’ll receive our Daily Edition email for free.
Register to continue
Or Continue with
Log in to continue
Sign in or Register
Or Continue with
check your email
Check your email
We sent an email to you at .
It has a link that will sign you in.