Trump fires Iran hawk John Bolton as national security adviser

US president says he disagreed with hardline security chief; move likely signals administration shifting toward softer line with Tehran amid talk of direct negotiations

US National Security Adviser John Bolton speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem, June 25, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton\Flash90)
US National Security Adviser John Bolton speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem, June 25, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton\Flash90)

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced that he had fired National Security Adviser John Bolton, seen as the architect of the White House’s hard-line policy toward Iran, citing strong disagreements on a number of policy issues.

Bolton’s exit comes as Trump moves closer to direct talks with Iran after pulling out of the nuclear deal, and likely signals a shift in the administration’s strategy toward a softer line with Tehran.

In a pair of tweets, Trump said he had disagreed with much of Bolton’s advice and had asked for his resignation.

“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service,” he wrote.

Trump said he would name a new national security adviser next week.

Bolton’s ouster came as a surprise to many in the White House. Just an hour before Trump’s tweet, the press office announced that Bolton would join Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a briefing.

Bolton indicated that he had not been fired but quit, writing on Twitter that “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.'”

Bolton was reportedly displeased that Trump indicated he was ready to meet with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran to renegotiate a nuclear deal.

US President Donald Trump, left, meets with South Korean President Moon Jae-In in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, as national security adviser John Bolton, right, watches. May 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

A war hawk who previously served as US ambassador to the UN in the George W. Bush administration, Bolton had led the administration’s “maximum pressure” policy against Iran designed to cripple the country’s economy and possibly bring down the ayatollah regime.

He had been widely cheered by Israel’s right-wing government, which had pushed the administration to abandon the nuclear deal and take a more hawkish stance toward Iran.

On Monday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exposed what he said was a former secret Iranian nuclear weapons development site, and urged the international community to join the Trump Administration in maximizing “sanctions, sanctions, sanctions” on Iran. Netanyahu said last week that now was not the time to talk to Iran, but also that he does not tell Trump who to meet with.

Bolton has deep ties to the mainstream pro-Israel community dating to his outspoken Israel advocacy during his stint as UN ambassador in the mid-2000s and to his pivotal role as a State Department official in the early 1990s in repealing the body’s infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with the US National Security Adviser John Bolton, during a statement to the media follow their meeting in Jerusalem on January 6, 2019. (Oded Balilty/Pool/ AFP)

Trump did not elaborate on what strong disagreements he had with Bolton, but reports said the two disagreed over the scope of a peace plan Trump hoped to extract from the Taliban in Afghanistan. Traditional conservatives who identified with Bolton were especially appalled that Trump invited the Taliban to Camp David to finalize the peace agreement so close to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks carried out in 2001 by the Taliban ally, al-Qaida.

Trump canceled the peace deal this weekend.

Bolton was always an unlikely pick to be Trump’s third national security adviser, with a world view seemingly ill-fit to the president’s isolationist “America First” pronouncements.

Inside the administration he advocated caution on the president’s whirlwind rapprochement with North Korea and against Trump’s decision last year to pull US troops out of Syria. He masterminded a quiet campaign inside the administration and with allies abroad to convince Trump to keep US forces in Syria to counter the remnants of the Islamic State and Iranian influence in the region.

He also led the administration’s aggressive posture toward Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.

Bolton was named Trump’s third national security adviser in April 2018 after the departure of Army Gen. H.R. McMaster.

JTA contributed to this report.

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