Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is about to go to the Mideast, told CNBC Monday that the planned U.S. withdrawal of troops from Syria does not change the mission of destroying the Islamic State terror group and stopping Iran from influencing the region through its state-sponsored terrorism operations.
Pompeo told CNBC's Wilfred Frost on "Squawk on the Street" that the Syria drawdown is a "change of tactics" but not the U.S. commitment "to the defeat of the caliphate or of ISIS globally." The caliphate refers to the idea of an Islamic state governed by Islamic law. Pompeo also said, "There's no change in our counter-Iran strategy."
President Donald Trump sent shockwaves through Washington and around the globe last month when he announced on Twitter that he would be withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria. "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency," he wrote. Since then, after criticism from fellow Republicans, the administration has added caveats to the withdrawal, effectively softening Trump's original declaration.
On Monday, the president tweeted that U.S. forces "will be leaving at a proper pace while at the same time continuing to fight ISIS and doing all else that is prudent and necessary!"
Pompeo, asked whether Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can be trusted not to turn on the American-backed Kurds in Syria, told CNBC Monday: "Erdogan made a commitment to President Trump ... that the Turks would continue to the counter ISIS campaign after our departure, and that the Turks would ensure that the folks that we'd fought with — that assisted us in the counter ISIS campaign — would be protected."
White House national security advisor John Bolton is there in the region to sure up those promises, said Pompeo, a Republican congressman from Kansas before Trump appointed him as director of Central Intelligence and then secretary of State. "Commitments are important and then making sure we follow through on those commitments matters an awful lot. That's true for lots of parties, including our NATO allies Turkey."
On Sunday, Bolton said the planned U.S. withdrawal of 2,000 troops from Syria will be contingent upon cementing an agreement with Turkey that protects Kurdish fighters in the region who have been pivotal to battling ISIS.
Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel and Turkey — intended in part to reassure allies amid criticism over the White House's Syria decision — Bolton fielded numerous questions about Washington's support for its Kurdish partners, and U.S. plans to reduce its footprint in the strife-torn country. He described the stipulation as Trump's official position.
In CNBC's wide-ranging interview, Pompeo also talked about the U.S.-China trade war, America's relationship with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the ongoing U.S. government shutdown, and concerns about a hard Brexit.