White House national security adviser John Bolton on Sunday outlined conditions for the US withdrawal from Syria that appeared to contradict President Trump’s insistence that the withdrawal would be immediate and without conditions.
Speaking during a visit to Israel, Bolton said that certain “objectives” must be achieved before a pullout could take place. “The timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement.”
“This is a cause and effect mission,” Bolton added, telling reporters that the pullout was dependent on certain conditions, chief among them guarantees from Turkey that Kurdish militias in Syria would be protected.
Bolton also said that despite talk from President Trump of total withdrawal, the US may leave some forces in place at its base in Al-Tanf in southeastern Syria – even after the withdrawal. In such a scenario, US troops would be removed from northern Syria, with neighboring Turkey filling the vacuum, while the US enclave in Al-Tanf would be maintained.
Retaining the Al-Tanf enclave, Bolton said, would help the US prevent Iran from entrenching itself further in the war-torn country – a key concern of US allies including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.
Later on Sunday, Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Bolton, and the two made a brief joint statement to the press.
During the press conference, Netanyahu praised Trump for withdrawing the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, and for the decision in December 2017 to relocate the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
"That's important to America, to Israel, and to the world. Everybody who wants to stop Iranian aggression respects that deeply."
"You've also unequivocally backed Israel at the United Nations," Netanyahu added, "and that's something deeply appreciated by all Israelis."
Bolton hailed the relationship between Israel and the US under the Trump administration, saying the bond between the two countries had never been stronger.
“Under your leadership, with President Trump, we now have the best US-Israel relationship in our history.”
“The leadership that’s necessary in what is increasingly… a very critical time for security here in the Middle East and us around the world, requires that strong bond and leadership that you and the president provide,” said Bolton, citing Iran’s nuclear program, the Syrian civil war, and the ISIS terror organization.
Referring to the Syria pullout, Bolton said “We’re going to be discussing the president’s decision to withdraw…from northeast Syria in a way that ISIS is defeated and not able to revive itself and become a threat again, and to make sure that the defense of Israel and our other friends in the region is absolutely assured. And to take care of those who have fought with us against ISIS and other terrorist groups.
“I would just say that to any nation, whether in this region or not in this region, that has any doubt about America's support for Israel, self-defense, they better think about it again.”
The Trump administration has sought to reassure regional allies – including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States, that it will not permit an Iranian takeover of Syria following the US withdrawal.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is slated to arrive in the region on Tuesday for a series of meetings with leaders of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan.