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Bolton Says U.S. Seeks 'Behavior' Change From Iran, Not Regime Change

U.S. -- U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks during an interview with Reuters in Jerusalem August 21, 2018. Picture taken August 21, 2018


White House National Security Adviser John Bolton says the United States is not seeking to topple Iran's government, but says Washington does want authorities in Tehran to change their behavior.

"Just to be clear, regime change in Iran is not American policy. But what we want is massive change in the regime's behavior," Bolton told a news conference on August 22 in Jerusalem, where he has held talks with Israeli leaders.

Bolton, who has in the past suggested the U.S. government should push for a change in government in Iran, said in May that regime change was not part of the Trump administration's policy.

Bolton also warned on August 22 that the United States will respond "very strongly" if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces use chemical weapons in an offensive to retake Idlib province.

Separately, in an interview with Reuters published earlier on August 22, Bolton said the United States will continue to push for full withdrawal of Iran's military from Syria in his upcoming talks with Russia over the Syrian civil war.

Bolton said Washington is maintaining a contingent of several thousand U.S. soldiers in Syria in part out of its concern that Iranian fighters in the country pose a threat to U.S. ally Israel.

"Our interests in Syria are to finish the destruction of the [Islamic State's] territorial caliphate and deal with the continuing threat of ISIS terrorism, and to worry about the presence of Iranian militias and regular forces," he said. "And those are the issues that keep us there."

Bolton is due to meet with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva on August 23 in the first official follow-up to a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump last month at which they discussed the U.S. and Israeli demand that Iranian forces withdraw from Syria.

Bolton told Reuters that Putin informed Trump at the summit that Russia cannot force the Iranian troops to leave.

"But he also told us that his interest and Iran's were not exactly the same [in Syria]. So we're obviously going to talk to him about what role they can play" at the upcoming meeting, Bolton said.

"We're going see what we and others can agree in terms of resolving the conflict in Syria. But the one prerequisite there is the withdrawal of all Iranian forces back in Iran," he told Reuters.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP