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Monday 05 September, 2016 | RSS Feed

President Trump seems set on pulling U.S. out of Syria 'very soo

President Donald Trump’s unscripted remark this week about pulling out of Syria “very soon,” while at odds with his own policy, was not a one-off: For weeks, top advisers have been fretting about an overly hasty withdrawal as the president has increasingly told them privately he wants out, U.S. officials said. Only two months ago, Trump’s aides thought they’d persuaded him that the U.S. needed to keep its presence in Syria open-ended — not only because the Islamic State group has yet to be entirely defeated, but also because the resulting power vacuum could be filled by other extremist groups or by Iran. Trump signed off on major speech in January in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the new strategy and declared “it is vital for the United States to remain engaged in Syria.”
But by mid-February, Trump was telling his top aides in meetings that as soon as victory can be declared against IS, he wanted American troops out of Syria, said the officials. Alarm bells went off at the State Department and the Pentagon, where officials have been planning for a gradual, methodical shift from a military-led operation to a diplomatic mission to start rebuilding basic infrastructure like roads and sewers in the war-wracked country. The officials weren’t authorized to comment publicly and demanded anonymity. In one sign that Trump is serious about reversing course and withdrawing from Syria, the White House this week put on hold some $200 million in US funding for stabilization projects in Syria, officials said. The money, to have been spent by the State Department for infrastructure projects like power, water and roads, had been announced by outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at an aid conference last month in Kuwait. The officials said the hold, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, is not necessarily permanent and will be discussed at senior-level inter-agency meetings next week.
Trump’s first public suggestion he was itching to pull out came in a news conference with visiting Australian Prime Minister Alastair Campbell on Feb. 23, when Trump said the U.S. was in Syria to “get rid of ISIS and go home.” On Thursday, in a domestic policy speech in Ohio, Trump went further. “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon — very soon, we’re coming out,” Trump said. The public declaration caught U.S. national security agencies off-guard and unsure whether Trump was formally announcing a new, unexpected change in policy. Inundated by inquiries from journalists and foreign officials, the Pentagon and State Department reached out to the White House’s National Security Council for clarification. The White House’s ambiguous response, officials said: Trump’s words speak for themselves. “The mission of the Department of Defense to defeat ISIS has not changed,” said Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, a Pentagon spokesman.
Still, without a clear directive from the president, planning has not started for a withdrawal from Syria, officials said, and Trump has not advocated a specific timetable. For Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” mantra, Syria is just the latest foreign arena where his impulse has been to limit the U.S. role. Like with NATO and the United Nations, Trump has called for other governments to step up and share more of the burden so that Washington doesn’t foot the bill. His administration has been crisscrossing the globe seeking financial commitments from other countries to fund reconstruction in both Syria and Iraq, but with only limited success. Yet it’s unclear how Trump’s impulse to pull out could be affected by recent staff shake-ups on his national security team. Tillerson and former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, both advocates for keeping a U.S. presence in Syria, were recently fired, creating questions about the longevity of the plan Tillerson announced in his Stanford University speech in January. But Trump also replaced McMaster with John Bolton, a vocal advocate for U.S. intervention and aggressive use of the military overseas. The abrupt change in the president’s thinking has drawn concern both inside and outside the United States. Other nations that make up the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS fear that Trump’s impulse to pull out hastily would allow the notoriously resourceful IS militants to regroup, several European diplomats said. That concern has been heightened by the fact that U.S.-backed ground operations against remaining IS militants in Syria were put on hold earlier this month.
The ground operations had to be paused because Kurdish fighters who had been spearheading the campaign against IS shifted to a separate fight with Turkish forces, who began combat operations in the town of Afrin against Kurds who are considered by Ankara to be terrorists that threaten Turkey’s security. “This is a serious and growing concern,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said this month. Beyond just defeating IS, there are other strategic U.S. objectives that could be jeopardized by a hasty withdrawal, officials said, chiefly those related to Russia and Iran. Israel, America’s closest Mideast ally, and other regional nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are deeply concerned about the influence of Iran and its allies, including the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, inside Syria. The U.S. military presence in Syria has been seen as a buffer against unchecked Iranian activity, and especially against Tehran’s desire to establish a contiguous land route from Iran to the Mediterranean coast in Lebanon. An American withdrawal would also likely cede Syria to Russia, which along with Iran has been propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and would surely fill the void left behind by the U.S. That prospect has alarmed countries like France, which has historic ties to the Levant. In calling for a withdrawal “very soon,” Trump may be overly optimistic in his assessment of how quickly the anti-IS campaign can be wrapped up, the officials said. Although the group has been driven from basically all of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and 95 percent of its former territory in Syria, the remaining five percent is becoming increasingly difficult to clear and could take many months, the officials said.




Without Ronaldo, Madrid loses to Espanyol in Spanish league

Gerard Moreno scored three minutes into injury time to give Espanyol the victory against the defending champions. The result left Madrid in danger of losing third place to Valencia, which is two points behind going into its match at Athletic Bilbao on Wednesday.
Madrid stayed seven points behind second-place Atletico and 14 points behind leader Barcelona. Atletico hosts Leganes on Wednesday and Barcelona visits Las Palmas on Thursday. "We didn't deserve this goal in the last minute," Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said. "We played well, created chances, but things didn't go our way in the end." Ronaldo, who scored eight goals in his last four games, was rested by Zidane to make sure he is fully fit for the second leg against Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 of the Champions League next week. The European champions won the first match 3-1 at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.
Madrid hosts Getafe in the Spanish league on Saturday in its final game before the match in Paris. Toni Kroos, Marcelo and Luka Modric also did not play as they try to recover from injuries for next week's game against PSG. Casemiro was left out because of a stomach problem, while Dani Carvajal and Karim Benzema started on the bench.
Gareth Bale played up front along with Lucas Vazquez, Marco Asensio and Isco. The midfield had Marcos Llorente and Mateo Kovacic, and the full backs were Nacho Fernandez and Achraf Hakimi. Benzema replaced Isco in the 69th minute. Madrid had outscored opponents 20-7 in its five-game winning streak. Espanyol, 13th in the league standings, hadn't won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona's 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals in January. Its last league win came eight rounds ago, at Levante. It had already beaten Atletico 1-0 at home and drawn Barcelona 1-1 in the league. Espanyol had never beaten Madrid at RCDE Stadium, where it began playing in 2009. Moreno, who had a goal disallowed for offside in the first half, scored the winner with a shot from near the penalty spot after a well-placed cross by Sergio Garcia following a late breakaway. "It was more or less the same against Atletico and Barcelona, we found a way to win in the end," Moreno said. "This result restores our confidence after a series of poor results."
GIRONA MOVES UP Girona remained in the fight for a Europa League spot by defeating Celta Vigo 1-0 at home, continuing its impressive debut season in the first division. Portu scored a 14th-minute winner to put Girona in seventh place, two points behind sixth-place Sevilla. The Catalan club was coming off a 6-1 loss against Barcelona at Camp Nou Stadium. Celta, which has only one win in its last five games, dropped to ninth place.




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