The presidents of Russia, Turkey, and Iran are meeting in Tehran on Friday to discuss Syria's future, as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies gear up for an assault on the last rebel enclave, Idlib. Russian warplanes reportedly bombed southern Idlib Friday morning, but the Russian, Turkish, and Iranian leaders may still find a way to avoid a humanitarian disaster and massive bloodshed in a province with 3 million civilians and more than 10,000 hardcore fighters.
President Trump is not at the meeting, but he has agreed to a new U.S. strategy that involves keeping America's 2,200 troops in Syria indefinitely, said James Jeffrey, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's Syrian engagement envoy. "The new policy is we're no longer pulling out by the end of the year," he said, according to The Washington Post. Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton have communicated to Russia that Trump will be very angry with any slaughter in Idlib, he added.
"Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation," Jeffrey said. "You add to that, if you use chemical weapons, or create refugee flows, or attack innocent civilians," and "the consequences of that are that we will shift our positions and use all of our tools to make it clear that we'll have to find ways to achieve our goals that are less reliant on the goodwill of the Russians."
The U.S., which has focused its efforts on eradicating the Islamic State, now wants all Iranian forces out of Syria and a stable, broadly acceptable government in Damascus. "Much of the motivation for the change, officials said, stems from growing doubts about whether Russia, which Trump has said could be a partner, is able and willing to help eject Iran," the Post reports. Trump has been known to change his mind, but Jeffrey said he is "confident the president is on board with this" more "active" approach. Peter Weber