US National Security Advisor John Bolton Image Credit: AFP

Tel Aviv: US National Security Adviser John Bolton has 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 US 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 [Al] 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 [Al] Assad regime to see what we do as representing any diminution in our opposition to the use of weapons of mass destruction.”

Meanwhile, military commanders from Russia and the US held a phone conversation to discuss Syria as US forces prepare to leave the Middle Eastern country.

Russia’s General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov also exchanged opinions on the war on terror and other topics during Friday’s discussion with General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Russian Defence Ministry said in an emailed statement.

President Donald Trump has ordered US troops to pull out of Syria. It’s not clear how soon the approximately 2,000 soldiers will be going home.

The US will withdraw forces in a deliberate and coordinated way and ensure there is no power vacuum for terrorists to exploit in Syria, according to a State Department official, who asked not to be identified. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo will visit eight countries in the Middle East, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, over the course of one week starting January 8, the State Department said Friday.

Russia and Turkey will play a crucial role in resolving the conflict in Syria, President Vladimir Putin told his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a New Year’s message published by the Kremlin on December 30.

— Agencies