Trump Adviser Bolton Shifts Tone From ‘Assad Must Go’ to ‘Iran Must Leave Syria’
President Trump’s national security adviser, John R. Bolton, who is often described as a war hawk and known for his support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and his advocacy of the bombing of North Korea, Iran and Syria, seems to have given up on his “Assad must go” rhetoric, at least temporarily.
Speaking to CBS News on Sunday about the prospects for the upcoming Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki on July 16, Bolton suggested that Syria was one area where Russia and the US “might make progress together.”
“We’ll see what happens when the two of them get together. There are possibilities for doing a larger negotiation on helping to get Iranian forces out of Syria and back into Iran, which would be a significant step forward – to have an agreement with Russia if that’s possible,” Bolton said.
“This has been something that’s been going on now for nearly seven years, this conflict in Syria,” Bolton noted, adding that his concern was the “Iranian presence now across Iraq and Syria really reaching into Lebanon.”
Asked whether he agreed with the assessment that Syrian President Bashar Assad had effectively “won the war” against Syria, Bolton deflected.
“Well I don’t think Assad is the strategic issue. I think Iran is the strategic issue,” he said, listing off a string of accusations against Tehran including their alleged “conventional forces in the Middle East.”
For their part, Tehran and Damascus have denied all claims about Iranian forces in Syria, pointing out that Iran is present in Syria only in an advisory capacity in the country’s fight against Islamist extremism.
John Bolton has been a keen proponent of military intervention against Syria going back to the Bush administration. Earlier this year, in the run-up to the Western missile strikes against Syria in April, the national security advisor reportedly advocated a considerably more significant intervention, promoting strikes which would be “ruinous” to Damascus’s military capabilities. Bolton was overruled by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford, who had opted for more limited strikes, which proved a failure.