US National Security Adviser John Bolton says Washington has no plans to end its military presence in Syria, signaling an about-face in President Donald Trump’s plans to pull out troops from the Arab country.
Trump announced in April that he was going to withdraw American forces from Syria, saying their declared mission had come to an end after the defeat of the Daesh terror group.
Bolton, however, told ABC News on Sunday that the US was not going anywhere as long as Iran remained in Syria.
“I think the president has made it clear that we are there until the ISIS territorial caliphate is removed and as long as the Iranian menace continues throughout the Middle East,” Bolton said, using another name for Daesh.
The former US envoy to the UN said Trump is going to discuss the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin once they meet in the Finnish capital of Helsinki on Monday.
A US intelligence report viewed by American media, however, said Putin was expected to ask Trump to deliver on his promise and indeed pull out of Syria.
The US has established bases in eastern Syria, where they are believed to be training anti-Assad militiamen. Washington has warned Moscow and Damascus against approaching areas under its control.
Bolton’s remarks come in the context of Israel’s insistence that Iranian military advisers leave Syria where the army is making steady advances against foreign-backed terrorists.
Syrian troops have now turned their attention to the last province bordering the Golan Heights which is occupied by Israel. On Sunday, they took back the first village in the strategic southwestern Quneitra Province.
Israel is worried by the presence of Iranian military advisers whose help has been crucial to the Syrian army advances.
Iranian advisers are in Syria at the request of the Syrian government but US troops are there illegally, with Damascus saying they did not have a benign agenda and repeatedly calling for their exit.
Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, said in Moscow Friday that Iran coordinates its military presence in Syria with Moscow and Damascus.
Velayati said Iran and Russia’s presence in Syria would continue to protect the country against terrorist groups and America’s aggression.
They “will immediately leave if Iraqi and Syrian governments want it, not because of Israel and America’s pressure,” he added.
Israel’s Ynetnews website reported on Friday Russia had rejected an Israeli demand to remove Iranian advisers to within 80 kilometers from the occupied Golan Heights.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this month that Iran was one of the key players in the region, and that it would be “absolutely unrealistic” to expect it to leave Syria.
“Lavrov is right that pushing Iran out of Syria is unrealistic. As Iran has emerged as a decisive political power in Lebanon and Iraq, it will also likely remain a major player in Syria, even after the armed conflict is over,” political analyst Shahir Shahidsaless wrote on the website of the Middle East Eye news portal.