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Donald Trump’s national security adviser yesterday warned Russia there would be no deal on Syria unless Iranian troops withdrew from the country.
The US and Israel have been pressuring Moscow over the matter of Iran’s presence in Syria, where thousands of Iranians are fighting in support of the Bashar al-Assad regime.
However, yesterday’s comments from John Bolton marked the first time Washington had issued such a direct ultimatum.
"We're going to see what we and others can agree in terms of resolving the conflict in Syria,” Mr Bolton, who is known to be a hawk on foreign policy, told reporters during a visit to Israel. “But the one prerequisite there is the withdrawal of all Iranian forces back in Iran."
Iran is deeply embedded in the conflict and heavily invested in its outcome, making it unlikely it will forfeit its influence in Syria for the sake of a Russian deal.
Russian officials have admitted that the Kremlin has no say over the Iranian troops they fight alongside.
Mr Bolton said that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met President Trump in Helsinki last month, had told the US that Moscow could not compel the Iranians to leave Syria.
"But he also told us that his interest and Iran's were not exactly the same,” said Mr Bolton. “So we're obviously going to talk to him about what role they can play.”
Russia is trying to draw a line under the seven-year civil war, despite a looming battle for the final rebel stronghold of Idlib in the north.
Moscow wants the US to withdraw its some 2,000 troops from Syria, support its plan for rebuilding the country and help convince refugees scattered around the world to return home.
The first demand coincides with Mr Trump's own plans, with the president announcing earlier this year that he would be recalling soldiers from the war as soon as possible.
Though Mr Bolton’s preconditions could now see US troops remain much longer than Mr Trump had planned.
Mr Bolton said yesterday that "the Russians are stuck there at the moment,” which he claimed gave Washington leverage in its talks with Moscow.
"And I don't think they want to be stuck there,” he said. “I think their frenetic diplomatic activity in Europe indicates that they'd like to find somebody else, for example, to bear the cost of reconstructing Syria - which they may or may not succeed in doing."