John Bolton on Syria withdrawal: U.S. will assure the defence of Israel


The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria will be done in a way that safeguards the defence capabilities of Israel and other allies, an aide to U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton was speaking at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

"We are going to be discussing the president's decision to withdraw, but to do so – from north-east Syria – in a way that makes sure that Islamic State is defeated and is not able to revive itself and become a threat again and to make sure the defence of Israel and our other friends in the region is absolutely assured and to take care of those who fought with us against Islamic State and other terrorist groups," Bolton said, ahead of a dinner meeting with Netanyahu.

Trump surprised allies and some members of his administration when he announced the withdrawal of 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria on 19 December, saying the mission of defeating Islamic State had been achieved. He initially said the withdrawal would be immediate, but has since walked that back.

Speaking Sunday at the White House, he said the U.S. withdrawal is "going quickly," but said U.S. troops "won't be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone."

In Jerusalem, Bolton said Trump "proudly and unequivocally" supports Israel's right to defend itself as "the ultimate mark of sovereignty."

Netanyahu mentioned that he and Bolton are scheduled to visit the Golan Heights, which border Syria to the north-east, on Monday, which he stressed are "tremendously important for our security."

"I think when you're there you will understand perfectly why we will never leave the Golan Heights and why it is important that all countries recognise Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights,"  Netanyahu said.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and unilaterally annexed the territory in 1981.

Earlier on Sunday, Bolton told reporters the withdrawal from Syria won't take place until the Turkish government guarantees that it will not attack Syrian Kurdish forces allied in the fight against Islamic State. He said the U.S. will seek that commitment from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom Bolton will meet next week.

There are also several conditions that have to be met before U.S. troops leave.

"There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal," Bolton said.

The U.S. is concerned about the fate of the Syrian Kurds and military actions after its withdrawal.

"We don't think the Turks ought to undertake military action that's not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States," Bolton told reporters.

Bolton spoke with reporters travelling with him to Israel and Turkey. A spokesman for the National Security Council confirmed the comments to journalists.

Discussions on Turkey's role in assuming the main responsibility for fighting IS militants in Syria will take place Tuesday in Ankara. Turkey is asking the U.S. to provide substantial military support, including airstrikes, transport and logistics, unidentified senior U.S. officials quoted by the Wall Street Journal said.    (dpa)

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