President Donald Trump’s national security adviser says the US military withdrawal from Syria will only happen once the remnants of the Islamic State group are defeated.
John Bolton added that Turkey needed to assure the safety of Kurdish fighters allied with the United States in the area.
Mr Bolton, who is in Israel to reassure the US ally of the Trump-ordered withdrawal, says there is no timetable for the pull-out of American forces in north-eastern Syria, but insists it is not an unlimited commitment.
There is no change to the US position against the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime - any further use will be met by a swift, strong response.— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) January 6, 2019
Mr Bolton said on Sunday that “the timetable flows from the policy decisions that we need to implement”.
His comments mark the first public confirmation the withdrawal has been slowed, as President Trump faced widespread criticism from allies and the resignation of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis for a policy that was to have been conducted within weeks.
President Trump announced in mid-December that the US will withdraw all of its 2,000 forces in Syria.
His move has raised fears over clearing the way for a Turkish assault on Kurdish fighters in Syria who fought alongside American troops against IS extremists.
Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, a terrorist group linked to an insurgency within its own borders.
Mr Bolton, who is to travel on to Turkey on Monday, said the US is insisting that its Kurdish allies in the fight against the Islamic State group are protected from any planned Turkish offensive.
He is to deliver a warning to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week.
“We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with and agreed to by the United States,” Mr Bolton said.
President Trump has stated that he would “not allow Turkey to kill the Kurds”, Mr Bolton said.
“That’s what the president said, the ones that fought with us.”
Mr Bolton said the US has asked its Kurdish allies to “stand fast now” and refrain from seeking protection from Russia or Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
He said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen Joseph Dunford would continue negotiations with his Turkish counterparts this week to seek protection for America’s Kurdish allies in Syria.
He added that Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, who has been serving since August as the special representative for Syrian engagement and was named last week as the American special envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition, would travel to Syria this week in an effort to reassure the US’s Kurdish allies that they are not being abandoned.
Mr Bolton said US troops would remain at the critical are of al-Tanf, in southern Syria, to counter growing Iranian activity in the region.
He defended the legal basis for the deployment, saying it is justified by the president’s Constitutional authority, adding “I’m a strong believer in Article II”.