The United States said Wednesday it will refuse any post-war reconstruction assistance to Syria if Iran is present, expanding the rationale for US involvement in the conflict.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to a pro-Israel group, vowed an aggressive push to counter Iran across the Middle East and said that Syria was a decisive battleground.
"The onus for expelling Iran from the country falls on the Syrian government, which bears responsibility for its presence there," Pompeo told the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.
"If Syria doesn't ensure the total withdrawal of Iranian-backed troops, it will not receive one single dollar from the United States for reconstruction," Pompeo said.
Pompeo's speech effectively broadens the official explanation for why the United States is involved in Syria's civil war, which a monitoring group says has killed close to 365,000 people since 2011. Some organizations put the number much higher.
Pompeo acknowledged that Assad was stronger thanks to Iranian and Russian help and said that, with IS "beaten into a shadow of its former self," new priorities had emerged.
"Defeating ISIS, which was once our primary focus, continues to be a priority. But it will now be joined by two other mutually reinforcing objectives," Pompeo said.
"These include a peaceful political resolution to the Syrian conflict and the removal of all Iranian and Iranian-backed forces from Syria."
Iran, ruled by Shia Muslim clerics, has deployed both troops and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah to prop up Assad, a secular leader who belongs to the Alawite sect and is facing down hardline Sunni Muslim forces.
Pompeo warned that Iran, a sworn foe of Israel, would open a new front against the Jewish state if it remained in Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has similarly warned that he will never accept an Iranian presence in Syria.