WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump's National Security Adviser John Bolton, on a visit to Israel, said Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin told the U.S. that Moscow could not bring about the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria.
In an interview with Reuters, Bolton said that Putin, who met U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki on July 16, also "told us that his interest and Iran's were not exactly the same. So we're obviously going to talk to him about what role they can play." Bolton is slated to meet his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, in Geneva on Thursday.
Bolton also said that the Trump administration was not considering at this time to recognize Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights, despite attempts to push for such recognition in Congress and from Israeli politicians. Such recognition is not on the table, at least for now, Bolton said.
"I've heard the idea being suggested but there's no discussion of it, no decision within the U.S. government," Bolton told Reuters. "Obviously we understand the Israeli claim that it has annexed the Golan Heights - we understand their position - but there's no change in the U.S. position for now."
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has raised the issue of U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel during his first meeting with Trump in February 2017. Since then, a number of prominent Senators and members of Congress have also expressed support for such a move. However, within the Trump administration there is concern that such recognition could harm the administration's efforts to reach a deal with Russia on Syria.
Under Trump, the United States has sought to disengage from Syria, where the previous administration deployed some troops and gave limited support to rebel Kurdish forces over the objections of NATO partner Turkey. Bolton sidestepped a question on whether these measures would continue, framing the U.S. presence as objective-based.
"Our interests in Syria are to finish the destruction of the ISIS territorial caliphate and deal with the continuing threat of ISIS terrorism and to worry about the presence of Iranian militias and regular forces," he said in an interview.
"And those are the issues that keep us there."
Reuters contributed to this report.