Nancy Pelosi has raised fears that Donald Trump‘s decision to pull US troops out of Syria was linked to the prosecution of Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, over his work as a foreign agent.
Mr Flynn, who admitted failing to register his work as a lobbyist for Turkey, was due to be sentenced on Wednesday but the proceedings have been postponed while the 60-year-old completes a process of cooperation with Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
“All Americans should be concerned that this hasty announcement was made on the day after sentencing in criminal proceedings began against ... Flynn, who admitted that he was a registered foreign agent for a country with clear interests in the Syrian conflict,” said Ms Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.
Federal prosecutors have also charged two of Mr Flynn’s associates with illegally lobbying for Turkey in Ankara’s campaign to have dissident cleric Fethullah Gulen extradited from the US.
The US and Turkey have clashed over Washington’s support for Kurdish militia forces in Syria that have been battling Isis.
Specifically, the Turkish government has complained about their Nato ally’s backing of the YPG, a Kurdish group forming part of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which it considers a terrorist organisation.
The US had some 2,000 soldiers stationed in the part of northern Syria controlled by the Kurds.
But the State Department denied on Wednesday that Mr Trump had discussed his decision to remove those forces with Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in advance. “The president made his own decision,” said an official.
On Twitter, Mr Trump said the US had won “historic victories” against Isis, adding in a further tweet: “Getting out of Syria was no surprise. I’ve been campaigning on it for years, and six months ago, when I very publicly wanted to do it, I agreed to stay longer. Russia, Iran, Syria & others are the local enemy of ISIS. We were doing there work. Time to come home & rebuild. #MAGA”.
Ms Pelosi, who is seen as likely to be elected speaker in Congress when Democrats take control in January, added in her statement: “We must also ask why the president did not make this decision in the context of advancing peace negotiations. Syrian families caught in the middle of this conflict continue to endure heartbreaking horrors every day.
“When we take the gavel, our Democratic majority will uphold the Congress’ constitutional oversight responsibilities to ensure that the president’s decisions advance our national security interests, not his personal or political objectives.”
Mr Trump’s decision met with approval from Russian president Vladimir Putin, who said on Thursday his counterpart was “right” to pull out the troops, but the US’ Kurdish allies suggested the move would destabilise the region at a “critical” stage in the fight against Isis. Mr Putin is the leading international backer of Syrian president Bashar al Assad.
The UK had been discussing the withdrawal plan with Washington for several days, Theresa May’s spokesman said on Thursday. Defence minister Tobias Ellwood said he disagreed with Mr Trump’s assessment that Isis had been defeated, saying the threat was still “very much alive”.
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