But US official says Kremlin agreement is only “in principle” at this point


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The Trump Administration says Russia has agreed that Iranian forces must withdraw from Syria.

A White House official declared Thursday that Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed at their Helsinki summit last month on the need to remove the Iranian personnel, also sought by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The official based his declaration on Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Putin, at which no one else was present other than translators. The Kremlin has given no support to the assertion.

And the US official hedged by saying that Putin’s agreement was in “principle” and that he had advised Trump of the difficulty of achieving full Iranian departure from the 89-month Syrian conflict.

The White House source confirmed that National Security Advisor John Bolton will meet Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s Security Council, in Geneva next week to discuss Syria. He said Iran’s presence and the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons will be on the agenda.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded to the report, “I will not comment on that. We have already said everything we had to say about the Helsinki summit, we have nothing to add.”

Along with Russia, Iran has been essential in propping up the Assad regime and its military. The Iranians provided billions of dollars in assistance to sustain the Syrian economy, and they organized a 50,000-strong national militia to supplement the depleted army from 2012. In September 2015, as Russia intervened with intensive bombing, Iran provided the foreign militias to lead the reoccupation of occupation territory in areas such as Aleppo Province in northern Syria.

Last month reports circulated that Israel and Russia, after sustained discussions, agreed to keep Iranian forces about 85 km (53 miles) from the Israeli-occpied Golan Heights. The negotiations followed the recapture of much of southern Syria by pro-Assad forces, enabled by Russian airstrikes.