White House says Trump, Putin agree in principle on getting Iran out of Syria

DC official says agreement came in July Helsinki summit, but adds Russia wary of taking action; Bolton to meet Russian counterpart for follow-up talks next week

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and US President Donald Trump shake hands before a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and US President Donald Trump shake hands before a meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

A White House official said Thursday that US president Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed at their Helsinki summit last month on the need to remove Iranian forces from Syria.

According to a Reuters report, the official said that Putin and Trump spoke about the Iranian presence in Syria during their one-on-one at the summit.

He added that the Russian president had advised Trump that it would be difficult to accomplish this goal.

There was no immediate report on a Kremlin response to the comment.

The White House official also said US national security adviser John Bolton will meet with Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s Security Council, in Geneva next week to discuss Syria, focusing on Iran’s presence in the country and chemical weapons.

At the July summit in the Finnish capital, Trump made comments that seemed to contradict the views of US intelligence agencies over Russia’s efforts to affect the 2016 US presidential election, then backtracked on the comments after it caused a firestorm back home.

According to Reuters, the official, in what may be the first such White House readout of what transpired at the private Putin-Trump meeting, said the leaders agreed “in principle” that Iran should not remain in Syria, but Putin believed any attempt to push Iran out would be a “tough task,” in Reuters’ words.

The two leaders also discussed nuclear non-proliferation, but made no headway, according to the report.

The official also said Trump used the opportunity to tell Putin that Russia’s attempts to influence US elections must not be repeated in the 2018 midterms.

Bolton’s Geneva meeting will follow a visit to Israel, the Trump administration said on Tuesday.

His visit will also take him to Ukraine, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

Sanders did not elaborate and the White House did not return a request for comment.

There was no immediate confirmation from Jerusalem.

The trip to Israel will be the first for Bolton, seen as a pro-Israel hawk, since he was appointed to the role in March. At the time, Israeli government figures praised the choice, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett calling him a “stalwart friend of Israel.”

A former ambassador to the UN, Bolton is known for taking an aggressive stance against the Iranian regime, and was seen as a central player in the US decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal in May.

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.

Eric Cortellessa and agencies contributed to this report.

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