Senior Trump administration officials with knowledge of Russia-US negotiations on the possible joint withdrawal of US and Iranian forces from Syria said the talks 'largely fell apart' after National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that US troops would stay put in the Middle Eastern country indefinitely until "all Iranian forces" were pulled out, the Washington Post has reported, citing officials.
According to the newspaper, President Trump's decision on Thursday to get the ball rolling on recognising the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights as part of Israel really began "to gain real traction" only after Bolton arrived in the White House last April.
Israel opposed the creation of the de-escalation zones, claiming it would allow Iran to build up a presence near the Golan Heights, and marking its concerns over the fact that the de-escalation zone agreement limited Iranian forces from operating at a depth of 'just' 20 km from the Syrian-Israeli border. In late 2018, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed that Russia had fulfilled all the relevant agreements in Syria aimed at ensuring Israel's security, with Iranian forces withdrawn to over 100 km from Israel's borders, as requested by Tel Aviv and Washington.
President Trump appointed John Bolton as his national security advisor in April 2018, with the hawkish Bush-era neoconservative replacing former US Army general H.R. McMaster at the post. Last September, Bolton told reporters that the US would continue to maintain a presence in Syria until Iran withdraws its forces, "including Iranian proxies and militias," marking a public shift from Washington's earlier stated policy goal of defeating ISIS (Daesh).*
The Syrian government has repeatedly condemned the US military presence on its territory, considering it an illegal occupation and a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Iranian forces, on the other hand, were invited into the country to help it in its fight against terrorism, according to Damascus. Tehran has repeatedly said that its assistance to Syria was limited to military advisors and technical and arms assistance.
*A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.