Angela Merkel yesterday warned the planned withdrawal of US troops from Syria following the defeat of Isil and the collapse of its caliphate risks handing the upper hand to Iran and Russia.
The warning at the Munich Security Conference came just moments before US Vice President Michael Pence took to the stage to berate Germany and other European states for not meeting their Nato spending commitments and failing to follow the US in pulling out of the international nuclear accord with Iran.
The war of words highlights the differing approaches between the US and EU on how best to tackle what they agree are common strategic threats – Russia and Iran.
It may also raise the prospect of a deal in which the US keeps a military presence in Syria to support its allies in return for the EU unwinding its support for the nuclear deal with Iran.
Once mopping up operations after Isil falls are complete, the US is expected to start withdrawing its 2,000 troops in line with an announcement first made by President Donald Trump in December.
The move is tactically controversial because it is expected to cause others with significant troops in Syria, including France and Belgium, to withdraw their forces. Strategically it would create a vacuum that others will fill, say Merkle and others.