US warns Russia over missile defense for Assad regime
National security adviser John Bolton said Monday (Sep. 24) that delivery of the Russian S-300 would be a “significant escalation” in already high tensions in the region and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he would raise the matter this week with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov at the UN General Assembly.
“We think introducing the S-300s to the Assad regime would be a significant escalation by the Russians and something that we hope, if these press reports are accurate, they would reconsider,” Bolton said.
“We have American forces in the area we’re concerned about,” Bolton said. “The Israelis have a legitimate right to self-defense against this Iranian aggressive behavior, and what we’re all trying to do is reduce tensions, reduce the possibility of major new hostilities. That’s why the president has spoken to this issue and why we would regard introducing the S300 as a major mistake.”
Bolton said the US would keep a military presence in Syria until Iran is no longer active there.
“We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” he said.
Asked about Bolton’s statement that US troops will stay in Syria as long as Iran militias and proxies are there, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon, “Right now our troops inside Syria are there for one purpose, and that’s under the UN authorization about defeating ISIS.” He said this includes training local Syrian forces to prevent an ISIS comeback.
Mattis did not explicitly support or dispute Bolton’s statement, although his description of the role and mission of US troops in Syria did not include outlasting Iran.
Pressed to say whether he agreed with Bolton’s statement, Mattis said, “I’ll let Ambassador Bolton speak for himself,” but added later that he had spoken to Bolton twice Monday. “I think we’re on the same sheet of music,” which he said means supporting UN-brokered efforts to reach a political settlement. “There is no daylight between his appreciation of the situation and mine.”
Russia announced earlier Monday that it would give the Assad regime more modern, S-300 missile defense systems after last week’s downing of a Russian plane by Assad regime in a friendly fire incident. The military’s reconnaissance Il-20 was shot down by the Assad regime missile defense systems responding to an Israeli airstrike.