A Syrian American doctor is spearheading an initiative to nominate President Trump for a Noble Peace Prize after Trump managed to convince Putin to throttle back on plans to seize the Syrian refugee city of Idlib in 2018, an attack that could have potentially killed upwards of 3 million civilians.
Dr. Tarek Kteleh, a rheumatologist in Indiana and board member of a group that promotes national security issues in Syria called Citizens for a Secure and Safe America, told Fox News Thursday that Trump "deserves credit" for preventing the potentially deadly attack on one of the last remaining cities not under the control of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian military and their Russian and Iranian allies surrounded Idlib, a sanctuary city that nearly 4 million civilians fled to, ready to attack and push out the Syrian rebels by the end of summer 2018. The small province of land was a necessary stronghold for rebel forces, vital to preventing the dictator from accessing control of the Northern portion of the Middle East.
Kteleh and president of their group, Dr. Rim Al-Bezem, a cardiologist from New Jersey, met Trump at a fundraiser in Indiana specifically with the intention of bringing attention to the plight in Syria.
Al-Bezem explained to Trump the potential slaughter of innocent lives, almost a quarter of whom were children and Trump assured them that he was "not going to let this happen," Kteleh told Fox News.
Kteleh admits he was skeptical that Trump would take action, instead believing he was trying to appease himself and Al-Bezem, both of whom had families living in Idlib at the time.
Days after their meeting, on Aug. 31, 2018, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted about the dire situation in Idlib warning, "The U.S. sees this as an escalation of an already dangerous conflict."
"The 3 million Syrians, who have already been forced out of their homes and are now in #Idlib, will suffer from this aggression. Not good. The world is watching," Pompeo said.
"We thought maybe that was just an accident," Kteleh said, after seeing Pompeo's tweet. "But it could not be an accident--- that the president said he's not going to let this happen and then the next morning for the first time Secretary Pompeo says this."
Two days later, Trump used his active presence on social media to further the calls for the three foreign powers to stand down in Syria.
"President Bashar al-Assad of Syria must not recklessly attack Idlib Province. The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!"
"This is the first time ever in the last seven or eight years that anyone has done anything for the Syrian people and many of the civilians," Kteleh said, singling out former President Barack Obama's approach to interventions in Syria, and refusing to react with force to Assad's use of chemical weapons on his people.
"Unlike your predecessor, you bombarded Assad's military airport when he launched chemical weapons against civilians. We are grateful for this display of strength. The world now knows: you mean what you say," Kteleh and Al-Bezem wrote in a letter to Trump Thursday.
"He said 'the media did not give me credit for it. It's OK. I hear it from Syrian Americans, they thank me for it,'" Trump told Kteleh and Al-Bezem, who praised him for his efforts and told him he deserved to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
"We took it seriously and started thinking about how we could give him credit for what he's done. Number one because he deserves the credit. Saving millions of people is an honor people need to be awarded for," Kteleh said. "And number two because we feel that if he gets the nomination or gets considered, that will shed more light on these people who became refugees and at any point in time if Putin and Assad start assaulting them again it will give them hope and make the world recognize it."
Kteleh and other members of his advocacy group, made up of doctors, businessmen and activists, launched a petition and Facebook page in support of nominating Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020.
"We were surprised with the amount of support we got in a short period of time," Kteleh said, adding that in less than 10 days of creating the page, it garnered almost 28,000 supporters, a number that he says continues to climb by the thousands daily, as well as 21,000 signatures on a petition.
Kteleh said that despite allegations of collusion and Russian meddling in the 2016 election, a nearly two-year investigation that has clouded much of Trump's presidency, he doesn't believe the president is anything other than "sincere."
"He would not have done that," Kteleh said of Trump working with the Russians.
"We witnessed this firsthand. We went, we talked to the president, told him this was going to happen. He went out. Put pressure on Putin and Russia to stop the massacre. I don't believe it," he said.
Kteleh says he also fully supports Trump's withdrawal of nearly 1,000 troops from the northeast border of Syria, which many politicians and officials on both sides of the aisle condemned as an abandonment of U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) who now struggle to fend off Turkish enemies in the region.
"We're American first. We understand where he's coming from. He promised he'd bring the troops home. He promised during his election and campaign. He promised he would not be intervening in wars all over the world," Kteleh said. "He's just trying to commit to what he promised the people who elected him."
"When he protected the people in Idlib he did not have to commit troops or anything. All that he really did was give warnings to the Russians and the Iranians and Assad, that if you can attack and commit crimes, we're going to respond to you. That's all that he did. He did not have to put troops there. And we hope that he can do the same thing here. The ceasefire announced today is very similar."
Vice President Pence successfully negotiated a ceasefire after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara Thursday, with the foreign nation agreeing to halt Turkey's shellings in Syria for five days to allow the Kurdish YPG forces to pull back from the roughly 20-mile safe zone on the Turkish-Syrian border.