Russia welcomes Trump’s talk of Syria pullout

BEIRUT (AP) — Russia’s top diplomat says he is encouraged by U.S. President Donald Trump’s talk of reducing the U.S. military presence in Syria.

Trump said at an event in Ohio last week that the United States would be pulling out of Syria “very soon” despite the fact that that the State Department had been insisting for months that the U.S. needs to remain engaged there.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Monday that Moscow is concerned that the United States has been “gaining a serious foothold” on the east bank of the Euphrates River despite Trump’s earlier promises that the U.S. would leave when the Islamic State group is defeated. Lavrov said Trump’s latest remarks show that “at least he is committed” to his original statements.

Russia has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, ultimately helping to turn the tide of the devastating civil war in his favor. The United States helped Kurdish-led forces drive IS from much of northern and eastern Syria, and has hundreds of troops embedded with them.