The Latest: Russian envoy welcomes US troop pullout

The Latest: Russian envoy welcomes US troop pullout

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BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Trump administration's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria (all times local):

10:50 p.m.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia says "the pullout of all foreign forces which are in Syria illegally" would be a positive start to help stabilize the country and spur efforts toward a political solution of the seven-year war.

Nebenzia was responding to a question at a U.N. panel on Wednesday about Russia's reaction to U.S. President Donald Trump's announcement that all U.S. troops will leave Syria.

The Russian ambassador, whose country is a key ally of Syria, said it would fulfill a promise that Trump made.

In his words, "If that happens ... I think that would be a good start for our fruitful future cooperation on the credible political process in Syria."

He added, "I personally think that the pullout of all foreign forces which are in Syria illegally, illegitimately, and are de facto occupying much parts of the country will only help and facilitate the stabilization that we have been witnessing in Syria, especially in the last year."

He also said the amnesty that Syria's government has offered to those who lay down their arms "will only go faster" if foreign troops leave and "if we finally see the separation and delineation between the terrorist groups and the so-called moderate opposition."


8:35 p.m.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria says "an extra mile" is needed to form a committee to draft a new constitution for the conflict-torn country because a list of participants submitted by Russia, Iran and Turkey is unacceptable to the United Nations.

Staffan de Mistura said in his final briefing to the Security Council on Thursday before stepping down on Dec. 31 that the 50-member list was unbalanced, dropped experienced experts who are "natural bridge builders," and "needs a further review and revision."

Forming a constitutional committee, which is key to holding free elections and hopefully ending the seven-year civil war, has been dogged by objections from the Syrian government over the list which the U.N. was authorized to draw up representing civil society, experts, independents, tribal leaders and women.


8 p.m.

A bipartisan group of senators is urging President Donald Trump to abandon his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from the war in Syria.

Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Jack Reed of Rhode Island say they have growing support for a resolution urging the president to change his strategy.

Trump abruptly decided to withdraw troops against the advice of top military and diplomatic leaders. The move blindsided lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Graham on Thursday said Trump's decision is being celebrated by leaders in Russia, Iran and terrorist camps of the Islamic State group.

He added, "We are all worried about the consequences."

Graham said a big bipartisan group would support Trump if he reversed course.


7:50 p.m.

Israel's prime minister says he has spoken to President Donald Trump about Syria.

Benjamin Netanyahu's office said late Thursday that the two leaders discussed "ways to continue cooperation between Israel and the United States against Iranian aggression."

Earlier Thursday, Netanyahu said Israel would increase its activity in Syria against Iran following the U.S. decision to withdraw forces from the country.

Israel says it will not allow archenemy Iran to establish a permanent military presence in Syria. It has carried out scores of airstrikes in recent years, primarily to prevent Iran from shipping what it says are sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah.


7:30 a.m.

The political coordinator at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations says the United States remains committed to the permanent destruction of the Islamic State group and other terrorist groups in Syria and around the world.

Rodney Hunter spoke at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Syrian political developments.

"As we have said, we will use all instruments of our national power to press for a withdrawal of Iranian-backed forces," he said Thursday.

"We will continue to work together with our allies to fight terrorism," he added.

Hunter spoke following an announcement by Trump that he intends to pull U.S. troops from northern Syria.

He also said the U.S. will continue to advance a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis.


7:20 p.m.

A senior French official says France does not "share the assessment" of U.S. President Donald Trump that the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria is over.

The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said Thursday that French President Emmanuel Macron phoned Trump earlier this week to "tell him to continue the fight against" IS.

The official said Macron told him the withdrawal if "made too quickly, would affect not only stability in the region, but also the security of the people and the Syrian Democratic Forces."

U.S. officials said Wednesday that President Donald Trump is pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, as the president suddenly declared victory over IS.

--Samuel Petrequin


3:30 p.m.

Thousands of Syrians have gathered outside the headquarters for the U.S.-led coalition in northern Syria to protest Turkish threats of an imminent offensive.

The protesters congregating in Jalabiya southeast of Kobani city are demanding a clear stance from the coalition on threats by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to strike at U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

Turkey views the main Kurdish militia in Syria as a terrorist group and an extension of the insurgency within its borders. U.S. support for the group has strained ties between the two NATO allies.

The protesters held banners in Kurdish and Arabic denouncing the Turkish threats as well as pictures of loved ones who died fighting the Islamic State group alongside U.S. troops.


3 p.m.

President Donald Trump is defending his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

Trump tweets Thursday: "Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever?"

Officials announced Thursday that Trump was pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, as Trump declared victory over the Islamic State. But the move contradicted his own experts' assessments and sparked surprise and outrage from his party's lawmakers.

Trump said Thursday that his decision in Syria should be "no surprise," adding "I've been campaigning on it for years."


2:40 p.m.

Germany is expressing concern that the U.S. decision to withdraw troops from Syria could undermine efforts to combat the Islamic State group.

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement Thursday that "the abrupt change of course by the American side comes as a surprise not only for us." He said that while IS has been pushed back, "the threat is not yet over."

Maas says "there is a danger that the consequences of this decision could damage the fight against IS and endanger the successes that have been achieved." He pointed to "underground structures" and continued activity in eastern Syria.

U.S. officials said Wednesday that President Donald Trump is pulling all 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria, as the president suddenly declared victory over IS.


2:15 p.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Iran and Turkey will continue their efforts to bring peace to Syria, a day after President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the war-torn country.

Rouhani spoke Thursday during a joint news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Neither commented on the U.S. decision, which came after Trump declared victory over the Islamic State group.

Rouhani says Iran, Turkey and Russia will continue with the so-called Astana negotiations on Syria's future, with the next summit to be held in Russia. Iran and Russia have provided crucial military aid to Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey supports the opposition.

Rouhani says the people of Syria should decide the country's future, and "the territorial integrity of Syria should be respected."


1:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the Israeli military will "intensify" its activity in Syria to prevent Iranian entrenchment following the withdrawal of American forces from the country.

Netanyahu spoke Thursday at a joint summit with the leaders of Greece and Cyprus, a day after President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw American troops from Syria.

Netanyahu says Israel will "continue to act very aggressively against Iran's attempts to entrench in Syria," adding that it will do so with "complete support and backing from the United States."

Israel has clandestinely carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria over the course of the seven-year civil war to prevent Iranian entrenchment near the border and to keep strategic weaponry from reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon.


1 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the U.S. decision to withdraw its forces from Syria.

Speaking Thursday at his annual news conference, Putin said he agrees with U.S. President Donald Trump, who said Wednesday that the defeat of the Islamic State group removes the need for the U.S. military presence in the country.

Putin reaffirmed the long-held Russian argument that the U.S. presence in Syria is illegitimate because it hasn't been vetted by the U.N. Security Council or approved by Syrian President Bashar Assad's government. Putin added that "if the U.S. decided to withdraw its contingent, it has done the right thing."

Russia is a key ally of Assad, and its military intervention beginning in 2015 turned the tide of the war in his favor.

The Russian leader says it remains to be seen if the U.S. carries out its intention, noting Washington's repeated promises to end its 17-year presence in Afghanistan.


11:45 a.m.

A U.S.-backed group in Syria has rejected President Donald Trump's claim that the Islamic State has been defeated and says the withdrawal of U.S. troops would lead to a resurgence of the extremist group.

The group known as the Syrian Democratic Forces says in a statement that a premature U.S. troop pullout would have dangerous repercussions and a destabilizing effect on the region.

It says Thursday that "the war against Islamic State has not ended and the group has not been defeated." It was the group's first response to Trump's surprise announcement Wednesday that he would be withdrawing all American forces from Syria.

The decision has rattled Washington's Kurdish allies, who are its most reliable partner in Syria and among the most effective ground forces battling the IS group.


11 a.m.

President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw troops from Syria has rattled Washington's Kurdish allies, who are its most reliable partner in Syria and among the most effective ground forces battling the Islamic State group.

Kurds in northern Syria said commanders and fighters met into the night, discussing their response to Wednesday's surprise announcement.

Arin Sheikmos, a Kurdish journalist and commentator, says "we have every right to be afraid."

The move is widely seen as an abandonment of a loyal ally, one that could prompt Turkey to launch a fresh offensive against the Kurds or drive the Kurds into a new alliance with Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iran and Russia.

A Syrian member of parliament, Peter Marjana, said Thursday that a U.S. pullout would be a "recognition that Syria has won."

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