State Dept. representative on Syria and ISIS retires

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James Jeffrey, the U.S. special representative for Syria engagement, is retiring from his post, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday.

Jeffrey, a respected veteran diplomat who served as ambassador to Iraq, Turkey and Albania, came out of retirement in 2018 to serve the Trump administration as the point person on Syria. He at times butted heads with President Donald Trump’s policies, particularly with Trump’s numerous attempts to withdraw troops from Syria. Despite the disagreements, Jeffrey’s portfolio grew in 2019 to include representing the administration in the coalition combating the Islamic State.

Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, will take on Jeffrey’s responsibilities on ISIS after his departure, Pompeo announced. Sales currently leads the department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and is Pompeo’s main international counterterrorism adviser.

"Ambassador Jeffrey epitomizes the very best of our diplomatic corps. Jim is an American patriot of the highest order," Pompeo wrote in a Monday statement.

He continued in a second statement: "I have full confidence that Ambassador Sales will fulfill his additional duties with the same dedication to excellence and public service that he has displayed since his first day on the job."

Jeffrey was a vocal "never Trumper" during the president’s 2016 campaign. The former Obama- and Bush-era ambassador signed on to a letter in August 2016 calling Trump an "erratic" character who "acts impetuously."

The conflicts didn’t end when he joined the administration. Trump’s announcement in 2018 to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria caught many in his national security team off guard, including Jeffrey, who had only shortly before publicly predicted a continued U.S. presence in the country.

Jeffrey also clashed with the Pentagon in February over his desire to send American missile defense barriers to Turkey in its fight against the Syrian government. The Pentagon feared the system would be of little help and were reticent after Turkey already turned down an American offer for the defense barriers in favor of a Russian alternative.

Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

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