Secretary of State Mike Pompeo/ AFP
The United States said Wednesday it will refuse any post-war reconstruction assistance to Syria if Iran is present, expanding the rationale for US involvement in the conflict.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to a pro-Israel group, vowed an aggressive push to counter Iran across the Middle East and said that Syria was a decisive battleground, reports AFP.
"The onus for expelling Iran from the country falls on the Syrian government, which bears responsibility for its presence there," Pompeo told the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.
"If Syria doesn't ensure the total withdrawal of Iranian-backed troops, it will not receive one single dollar from the United States for reconstruction," Pompeo said.
Pompeo's speech effectively broadens the official explanation for why the United States is involved in Syria's civil war, which a monitoring group says has killed close to 365,000 people since 2011.
Former president Barack Obama authorized military action with the goal of rooting out the Islamic State group, or ISIS, the extremist force that has boasted of a slew of grisly attacks both in Syria and the West.
The United States has about 2,000 troops in Syria, primarily to train and advise forces other than ISIS that are waging an increasingly precarious fight to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
Pompeo acknowledged that Assad was stronger thanks to Iranian and Russian help and said that, with ISIS "beaten into a shadow of its former self," new priorities had emerged.
"Defeating ISIS, which was once our primary focus, continues to be a priority. But it will now be joined by two other mutually reinforcing objectives," Pompeo said.
"These include a peaceful political resolution to the Syrian conflict and the removal of all Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from Syria."