President Trump's team has not provided "official" notice of its apparent decision to stop the CIA from arming Syrian rebels, according to a Russian diplomat.
"We have not heard anything regarding this decision from the official sources," Artyom Kozhin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Friday. "Neither do we know about the status of other similar programs that could be implemented by other U.S. agencies. The U.S. intelligence does not report to us."
That statement implies that Trump did not tell Russian President Vladimir Putin of the policy change when they met in Hamburg, Germany. The reported decision to end the covert program, which was launched under then-President Barack Obama in an effort to induce Syrian President Bashar Assad's departure from power, is a significant shift for U.S. policy in Syria.
"If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin," Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a Thursday statement. "Making any concessions to Russia, absent a broader strategy for Syria, is irresponsible and short-sighted."
McCain has been more willing than most Republicans to criticize Trump's foreign policy decisions, in addition to arguing in favor of U.S. support for the rebels over the last several years. But he might not be alone in his opposition to cutting the CIA program, given that Congress voted last year to ease restrictions on the kinds of weaponry that the administration could provide to the Syrian opposition groups. And some Republicans have professed themselves pleased with the state of operations in the country.
"The past few days of travel in the Middle East were another reminder that the United States of America has the best military and intelligence professionals in the world," Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said in May. "We must work with allies in the region to destroy terrorist groups before they can bring additional terrorist strikes on Americans."
Russian officials maintain that the United States has armed terrorists, despite the American-led effort to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. "It is an open secret that a substantial number of militants who have been trained under the U.S. Train and Equip program ultimately joined ISIS," Kozhin said.
Trump's reported decision may represent the administration's belief that Russia, along with Assad and their Iranian partners, has all but won in Syria. "It's probably a nod to reality," Ilan Goldenberg, a former Obama administration official, told the Washington Post.