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U.S. redirects Syria funds, emphasizes it is not withdrawing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said on Friday it will redirect $230 million (£180.7 million) in frozen funding away from Syria and emphasized that the move did not signal a retreat by Washington from the conflict.

The department said it had raised $300 million from coalition partners for recovery efforts in areas retaken from Islamic State militants in the northeast of the country and the U.S. funds would be used to support other foreign policy priorities.

President Donald Trump froze the funds in March while his administration reassessed Washington’s role in the Syrian conflict, saying he wanted the U.S. to leave Syria.

U.S. officials insisted that Washington’s efforts would be focussed on defeating Islamic State in Syria.

It named former ambassador to Iraq, Jim Jeffrey, to a new position as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s adviser on Syria. Jeffrey would also oversee talks on a political transition in Syria, including the future of Russia and Iran-backed President Bashar al-Assad.

Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary David Satterfield said there would be no international funding for Syria’s reconstruction until there was a “credible and irreversible” political process underway to end the Syrian conflict.

“There is not going to be by international agreement reconstruction assistance to Syria unless the UN – not Moscow, not Washington, not any other capital – validates that a credible and irreversible political process is underway,” Satterfield told a conference call.

Both the Russian and Syrian governments want international funding to rebuild Syria, he said.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. special presidential envoy overseeing the fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, said Saudi Arabia had contributed $100 million and United Arab Emirates had pledged $50 million toward the new funding. Australia, Denmark, European Union, Taiwan, Kuwait, Germany and France also pledged funding, he said.

“It is about unlocking international reconstruction assistance which Syria is desperately going to need,” McGurk told reporters. “We are remaining in Syria. The focus is on the enduring fight against ISIS,” he added.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas)

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