John Bolton: Putin, like us, does not want Iran in Syria

In the meeting that brought together John Bolton with President Vladimir Putin, in preparation for the upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, in Helsinki in May 2018, much of the discussion centered on Syria.

On this issue, Bolton said that Putin referred to “our desire to see Iranian forces withdraw from Syria”, asking: “Who will accomplish this?”

“This was one of those moments when Putin directed me, and he said that I should tell Trump directly that the Russians do not need Iranians in Syria, and that there is no interest for Russia in their presence there,” Bolton added, explaining that Iran “was following its own agenda, given their goals in Lebanon and with the Shiites, which have nothing to do with Russian targets, and that create problems for them”.

According to what Bolton quoted Putin as saying, “Russia’s goal is to strengthen the Syrian state to prevent chaos, as happened in Afghanistan, while Iran has broader goals”.

But «while Russia wanted Iran out of Syria, Putin did not believe that he could guarantee a complete withdrawal, and did not want Russia to make promises that it could not honor.

The obsession with Putin, according to Bolton, is that “if the Iranians are withdrawn, who will support the Syrian forces against a large-scale aggression?”

Assuming that the Russian president “means the Syrian opposition and its Western supporters”.

In this regard, the former US National Security Adviser explains that “Putin had no intention of replacing Iranian forces with Russian forces in the internal Syrian conflict…

He wanted a clear understanding with the United States regarding Syria, then he touched on various aspects of the American and Russian military arrangements there, with a special focus on the Al Tanf area.

Putin went further, “saying with confidence that up to 5,000 local residents near Al Tanf were, in fact, ISIS fighters, who ostensibly would follow the American directives, but would betray us when it suits them,” noting that the Russian President stressed that These opponents «are not reliable allies of us.

Instead, we urged to move the Syrian peace process forward. 

But I said that our priority is to destroy ISIS and remove all Iranian forces. 

We were not fighting in the civil war in Syria, our priority was Iran”.


The conversation between the two men did not end there, according to Bolton, “Putin mocked our withdrawal from the nuclear agreement,” asking, “Now, after the United States withdrew, what will happen if Iran withdraws?”

As Bolton put it, he considered that “Israel cannot take military action against Iran alone, because it does not have the resources or capabilities, especially if the Arabs unite behind Iran”, which Bolton punished, describing it as “going to be preposterous”.

On the road to Trump’s visit to Helsinki to meet Putin, there was a stop in London, where he met former Prime Minister Theresa May who touched on “how to deal with the Russian presence in Syria”, stressing that “Putin appreciates only strength, with the clear hope that Trump will pay attention”.

Bolton, in turn, explained what Putin told him a few weeks ago about working to get Iran out of Syria, “which the British were skeptical about,” adding: “I said: I do not testify to Putin’s credibility,” which Mai replied, saying: “Okay.

We didn’t expect that from you in particular, John! ”Laughter will reign afterwards.

In this meeting, Trump showed part of his ignorance, because the issue of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal who sought refuge in Britain after his defection was discussed, and he was exposed to what was said to be a “chemical attack”, which was described during the meeting as a “chemical weapons attack on Nuclear power.

Ironically, however, Trump’s comment was: “Oh, are you a nuclear power?”


The talk about the Iranian presence in Syria has been repeated in more than one station, and it seems that he was not only an American or Israeli obsession, but also a Russian.

After London, the American delegation moved to Turnberry in Scotland, where Trump and his companions made several calls to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

“The main issue was Netanyahu’s last meeting with Putin, especially what we discussed about Syria,” he said, adding that “as he indicated in his previous meeting with me, Putin told Netanyahu that Iran should leave Syria, saying that he shares our goal, but Assad refuses to pressure the Iranians”.

what is this problem? 

According to Bolton, “Assad was, of course, relying on his alliance with Iran to make progress in Idlib against the Syrian opposition and many terrorist groups”.

But for the former National Security Adviser, “dealing with the Idlib issue was one thing, and there was no excuse for Assad behind the import of weapons systems that could only be used to threaten Israel”.

“Putin seemed to understand that,” Bolton said, but this time he also “couldn’t make any promises”. 

During the call, Netanyahu pressed Putin “for permanent borders on the Golan Heights, an old Israeli goal, with Syria on the one hand and Israel on the other”. 

But “this means eliminating the UN’s disengagement force and areas of separation, and returning to a normal border demarcation”.


Finally, talk about the Iranian presence in Syria made his trip clear at the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki. 

About this one-hour meeting between the two presidents, Bolton says that Trump’s team is sweating while waiting for it to end.

Then the American president came out and briefed his team, including Bolton, on the content of his meeting with Putin.

“Most of the conversation was about Syria, with a special focus on humanitarian assistance and reconstruction (which Russia wanted us and the West in general to finance), and getting Iran out”.

Trump also said that “Putin does not seem to care much, one way or another, about our withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal, even though he has said that Russia will remain”.


The matter did not end at the summit of the two presidents.

Putin returned to the presence of Iran in Syria, in a meeting with Bolton during the negotiations that preceded the abolition of the “medium-range missile treaty”.

Bolton said that “Putin stressed that the Russians do not need an Iranian presence in Syria, and that The right thing for each of us to do is to motivate them to leave”.

He stated that he discussed the issue with Netanyahu. 

On the other hand, Bolton pointed out that “after its withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear agreement, the United States was re-imposing sanctions on Iran, which we expected to be severe…”.

On this, Putin responded by saying that he “understands our logic, and admits our view that the Iranian people are tired of the regime”.

Indeed, the Russian President “warned that if we declared economic war against them, this would enhance support for the regime,” according to what Bolton quoted, who explained, “Why did we not look at it this way, and why strong sanctions will reduce the support that the regime enjoys, “Who was already under enormous pressure”.

Then, “Putin also admitted that each of us has our own view on how to deal with Iran, and we’ll see which one works”.