TEL AVIV — US National Security Advisor John Bolton warned the Syrian government that it should not see the impending US military withdrawal from the country as an invitation to use chemical weapons.
“There is absolutely no change in the U.S. position against the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and absolutely no change in our position that any use of chemical weapons would be met by a very strong response, as we’ve done twice before,” Bolton told reporters on his plane shortly before landing in Tel Aviv, Israel.
“So the regime, the Assad regime should be under no illusions on that question.”
Bolton added: “As we elaborate how the withdrawal is going to occur and the circumstances, we don’t want the Assad regime to see what we do as representing any diminution in our opposition to the use of weapons of mass destruction.”
The United States has no timeline to withdraw troops from Syria but does not plan to stay indefinitely, a senior State Department official said on Friday, a strong signal that forces could stay until the fight against Daesh (so-called IS) militants ends.
US-backed forces are still retaking territory from Daesh in Syria, Pentagon officials said on Friday, two weeks after Washington said it would withdraw its roughly 2,000 troops there.
The State Department official, briefing reporters before a visit to the Middle East next week by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appeared to be seeking to allay concerns on the withdrawal.
“We have no timeline for our military forces to withdraw from Syria,” said the official, who asked not to be identified. “It will be done in such a way that we and our allies and partners maintain pressure on ISIS throughout and we do not open up any vacuums for terrorists.”