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Bolton: Russia stuck in Syria, US can now push for Iran exit

US National Security Adviser John Bolton gestures as he gives a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (unseen) in Jerusalem al-Quds on August 20, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

During a visit to the Israeli-occupied territories, US National Security Adviser John Bolton has claimed that Russia is currently “stuck” in Syria, and that Washington could use this situation as leverage to push for an end to Iran’s mission there in future contacts with Moscow.

In an interview with Reuters in occupied Jerusalem al-Quds on Wednesday, Bolton said the US would seek to reach an understanding with Russia on the role of Iran in Syria. Both Tehran and Moscow have been assisting the national army to rid the country of a myriad of foreign-backed terror groups.

“We’re going see what we and others can agree in terms of resolving the conflict in Syria. But the one prerequisite there is the withdrawal of all Iranian forces back in Iran,” said the US official.

Tehran has been offering military advisory assistance to the Syrian army at the request of the Damascus government.

Bolton further claimed that Washington wielded leverage in its discussions with Moscow as “the Russians are stuck there at the moment,” adding, “I don’t think they want to be stuck there.”

The US official further claimed that Moscow was seeking to abdicate responsibility for funding the Syria reconstruction process.

“I think their frenetic diplomatic activity in Europe indicates that they’d like to find somebody else, for example, to bear the cost of reconstructing Syria - which they may or may not succeed in doing,” he added.

Bolton also noted that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told his American counterpart, Donald Trump, during the July 16 meeting in Helsinki that Moscow could not force the Iranian advisors out of Syria.

US President Donald Trump (L) and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

“We’re obviously going to talk to him (Putin) about what role they can play,” he said, referring to his upcoming meeting with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, in Geneva.

The Syrian army managed to drive the terrorists out of most parts and end Daesh’s territorial rule with help from Russia and Iran. It is now on the verge of fully liberating the southern parts near the Israeli-occupied territories, prompting serious concerns in Tel Aviv, which supports the terrorists operating there against Damascus.

Syria is now preparing for an operation to liberate Idlib Province, the last major militant stronghold.

Russia and Iran – together with Turkey – have also been mediating a successful diplomatic process, which has brought the warring sides to the negotiating table.

No US-Russian understanding on Idlib

Elsewhere in his interview, Bolton said that Washington’s contacts with Moscow did not include any understanding about a planned military operation by the Syrian army to retake Idlib Province.

He, however, warned that the US would respond “strongly” to any use of chemical or biological weapons there.

“But we’re very concerned as we look at the military situation and we want to be unmistakably clear to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad that we expect there will be no use of chemical weapons or biological weapons if there are any additional military hostilities in Idlib,” he said.

An alleged chemical weapons attack hit the Damascus suburb town of Douma on April 7,  just as the Syrian army was about to win the battle against the militants there.

Western states blamed the Syrian government for the incident, but Damascus firmly rejected the accusation.

One week after the suspected gas attack, the US, Britain and France launched a coordinated missile strike against sites and research facilities near Damascus and Homs with the purported goal of paralyzing the Syrian government’s capability to produce chemicals.

No talks on Golan recognition

Bolton also said that the US administration was not discussing possible recognition of the occupied side of Syria’s Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

“I’ve heard the idea being suggested but there’s no discussion of it, no decision within the US government,” Bolton said. “Obviously we understand the Israeli claim that it has annexed the Golan Heights - we understand their position - but there’s no change in the US position for now.”

In 1967, Israel waged a full-scale war against Arab territories, during which it occupied a large swathe of Syria’s Golan Heights and annexed it four years later, a move never recognized by the international community.

Israel has built dozens of illegal settlements in the occupied Golan Heights since its occupation, and has used the territory to carry out a number of military operations against the Syrian government in support of the terrorists wreaking havoc on the Middle Eastern state.

Yisrael Katz, Israel’s intelligence minister, told Reuters back in May that Tel Aviv was pressing Washington to recognize Golan.

The Trump administration has already recognized Jerusalem al-Quds as the “capital” of Israel and moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to the occupied Palestinian city.

US-Turkey rift can end by pastor’s release

Additionally, Bolton said that a widening dispute between the US and Turkey can only be resolved if Ankara frees jailed American pastor Andrew Brunson.

“Look, the Turkish government made a big mistake in not releasing Pastor Brunson,” he said.

“Every day that goes by that mistake continues, this crisis could be over instantly if they did the right thing as a NATO ally, part of the West, and release pastor Brunson without condition.”

The US has recently taken punitive measures against Turkey over Ankara's detainment of the evangelical Christian pastor. The measures have triggered the Turkish currency's freefall and rattled the country's financial markets.

The pastor has been accused of having links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Gulen movement, which Turkey blames for the 2016 failed military coup.  On July 25, Brunson was placed under house arrest after almost two years in a Turkish jail. 

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