US National Security Adviser John Bolton on Sunday said that the US, Israel, and Russia agree that Iranian-backed troops must be removed from Syria.
Bolton was on his first visit to Israel since he replaced H.R. McMaster as US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser in April. Following his trip to Israel, Bolton will travel to Ukraine and Geneva, where he will follow up with Russian officials on Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month in Helsinki.
Ahead of a Monday meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bolton told ABC’s “This Week” that getting Iranian forces to withdraw from Syria was a goal shared by the Washington, Jerusalem, and Moscow.
“Certainly the objective of the United States, of Israel, President Putin said it was Russia’s objective is to get Iran — Iranian forces, Iranian militias, Iranian surrogates out of the offensive operations they’re in in both Syria and Iraq and frankly, to end Iran’s support for Hezbollah,” he said.
Hezbollah is an Iranian-backed terror group which seeks Israel’s destruction.
He said Putin did not view Russia’s interests as aligned with Iran’s in Syria, despite the two nations’ forces fighting alongside each other to uphold the regime of Bashar Assad.
“I think President Putin is very candid in his comments to President Trump, he was to me as well,” Bolton said. “He said he didn’t – didn’t have the same interest as Iran in Syria. And that he’d like to talk about ways to get them out.”
Bolton also said the main US goals in Syria and Iraq were getting rid of the Islamic State terror group and removing Iranian-backed troops.
“The interest that we’re pursuing in Syria and in Iraq is the final destruction of the ISIS territorial caliphate, dealing with the ISIS territorial threat and – and getting Iran back into — getting its forces back into its own territory,” he said.
“That’s what we’re focused on, we’re obviously concerned about a number of things including humanitarian situation in the region. We’ll be discussing that here in Israel and – and with the Russians in Geneva,” Bolton added.
During their meeting in Helsinki, both Trump and Putin expressed their commitment to Israel’s security, with the latter saying the two agreed on securing Israel’s northern border with Syria in accordance with the 1974 disengagement agreement following the Yom Kippur War.
As pro-regime Syrian troops have returned to the border in recent months as part of a Russian-backed offensive, Israel has called for the upholding of the disengagement accord and maintaining the buffer zone on the Golan frontier, amid concerns Iranian-aligned forces could establish themselves in the area.
Earlier this month, Russia’s top Syria negotiator said his country had convinced the Iranian forces in Syria to withdraw to at least 85 kilometers (53 miles) from the Israeli border, despite Israel’s opposition to Iran’s military presence anywhere in the country.
Israel has called for the removal of Iran-backed forces from all of Syria and has struck Iranian targets in the country to prevent them from setting up a military beachhead that could threaten the Jewish state.
While Russia has called for all non-Syrian troops to leave southern Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last month it is “absolutely unrealistic” to expect a complete Iranian pullout from the country. Iran has said its forces will only leave Syria at Assad’s request.
Bolton also said that the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord and the re-imposition of sanctions on Tehran had seriously weakened the regime.
“I think the president’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal has put a real crimp into the Iranian economy,” he said. “I think they’re feeling it and their capability for the Quds Force or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to conduct offensive operations in – in the region here and in Yemen as well.”
He stressed that it was not only Iran’s nuclear aspirations that posed a threat to Middle East stability.
“I think this is part of the problem with the Iranian regime generally and why it’s such a threat to peace and security not just because of its nuclear program, but because of its military operations and its support for terrorism,” he said.
Bolton, an Iran hawk, was seen as a central player in the US decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal in May.
Few details were released on Bolton’s itinerary or his agenda for talks with Israeli officials.
A meeting with Netanyahu was set for Monday morning.
A US embassy official said the discussions with Netanyahu and other Israeli officials would include “regional security issues.”
A former ambassador to the United Nations, Bolton in the past he has advocated for Israel carrying out military strikes against Iran. In March, former defense minister Shaul Mofaz said Bolton tried to convince him to carry out a pre-emptive strike on Iran in the mid 2000s.
Botlon visited Israel as undersecretary of state under president George W. Bush in 2004, holding meetings about sanctions against Iran.
Agencies contributed to this report.