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No timetable for Trump's Mideast peace plan, Bolton says

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton speaks during a news conference in Jerusalem, August 22, 2018.

REUTERS

JERUSALEM -- President Donald Trump's national security adviser says there's no timetable for releasing the administration's much-anticipated Mideast peace plan.

John Bolton said Wednesday in Jerusalem that a "lot of progress" has been made, but he refused to speculate what the plan entailed or when it may be publicized. The Trump administration recently began staffing its Mideast policy team ahead of the plan's expected release.

Trump officials have long promised the most comprehensive package ever put forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians have indicated they consider it a non-starter given Trump's bias toward Israel and his unilateral recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.

At a West Virginia rally on Tuesday, Mr. Trump said Israel will pay a "price" for that move and the Palestinians will "get something very good" in return.

Bolton would not address the Trump comments or say what the Palestinians could expect.

"Work continues," he said at a press conference in Jerusalem. "There are a lot of consultations and there is no decision on a timetable for when the full details of the plan will be announced."

Bolton said the Palestinians have "been used as agents by radical leaders over the years for their own political purposes" and that when the plan was rolled out they would discover that the Trump administration wants to give them a chance for a decent life.

Most of Bolton's three-day visit to Israel, however, was focused on Iran.

Bolton has been a strident critic of the nuclear deal signed between world powers and Iran, which the United States backed out of earlier this year. He has pushed for greater pressure on Tehran to get it to halt its support for regional militant groups and its development of ballistic missiles.

Israel was also deeply opposed to the nuclear accord, which lifted international sanctions on Iran in return for restrictions on its nuclear program. 

Bolton addressed the recently reimposed American sanctions on Iran, saying that regime change is not U.S. policy in in the Islamic Republic.

"Regime change in Iran is not American policy, but what we want is massive change in the regime's behavior," Bolton told journalists.

He said that he thought the sanctions were already having a significant effect on Iran's economy and on popular opinion inside the country. 

He reiterated that he hoped to work with Russia on getting Iran's forces out of Syria and issued a stern warning to President Bashar Assad's government ahead of an expected assault on the rebel-held Idlib province.

"We are obviously concerned about the possibility that Assad may use chemical weapons again," he said. "Just so there's no confusion here: if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons we will respond very strongly and they really ought to think about this a long time before they come into any decision, because there is no ambiguity in the U.S. position on this point."

The Trump administration has launched retaliatory strikes against Syrian government forces on two occasions after they allegedly used chemical weapons. The Syrian government denies ever using chemical arms.