US President Donald Trump and Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan (R), are seen during a cabinet meeting on July 18, 2018, at the White House in Washington, DC. Trump announced he would replace Defense Secretary Jim Mattis with his deputy Patrick Shanahan. File photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – US President Donald Trump said he had a good phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan where they discussed Syria and trade.
“I just had a long and productive call with President [Erdogan] of Turkey. We discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria, & the slow & highly coordinated pullout of US troops from the area. After many years they are coming home,” Trump tweeted.
“We also discussed heavily expanded Trade,” he added.
Trump has made no secret that he prioritizes trade relationships in his foreign policy, contentiously deciding to continue arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite objections from Congress after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Erdogan described the conversation as "fruitful... discussing many issues ranging from increasing coordination to developments in Syria. I hope our meeting will bring goodness to our country and region."
Trump made the initial decision to pull out of Syria after a phone call with Erdogan, announcing ISIS defeated in Syria in contradiction to assessments by his advisors.
He has been heavily criticized for the move. The military offensive against ISIS is still ongoing in Syria where the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), backed by the international coalition, is engaging militants on the frontlines in the Hajin area of Deir ez-Zor province.
France and Britain both have troops on the ground in Syria and have said they will remain in the country.
Speaking in Chad on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron condemned Trump’s shock decision, saying, “An ally must be reliable, to coordinate with its other allies.”
Iraq is one ally hoping to see good coordination as American troops leave the battleground in Syria.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who is also commander-in-chief of the armed forces, chairs a meeting of the National Security Council. Photo: PM office
Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Iraq’s prime minister and president to reassure them the US remains committed in Iraq.
ISIS’ last territorial foothold in Syria lies just across the border from Iraq. Iraqi and US troops are on the border in force and Iraq’s Air Force conducts occasional cross-border forays, targeting ISIS positions within Syria that pose a threat to Iraq.
Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi raised the US withdrawal from Syria in his weekly meeting with the National Security Council on Sunday. They discussed “taking necessary and proactive precautions.”
Iraqis are worried that a resurgent ISIS could seep through the border that the militants obliterated when they swept across Syria and Iraq in 2014.
“The prime minister said that the government is carrying out its duties to protect the country and be ready for anticipated events to prevent any possible damages caused by the decision,” read a statement from Abdul-Mahdi’s office.
The US has “renewed its commitment to cooperate with Iraq and continue providing necessary support to our security forces,” the statement added.
In a separate tweet, Trump announced that his Secretary of State James Mattis will leave the post two months early.
Mattis resigned from the position in protest of Trump’s decision in Syria. In his resignation letter, Mattis said his term would end on February 29, 2019.
Trump, reportedly annoyed at Mattis’ criticism, booted him out early, opting to promote the deputy secretary to acting secretary instead of waiting to nominate and receive approval for a replacement.
Updated at 9:01 pm