Intel: Bolton ouster leaves uncertain future for Iran policy

al-monitor US national security adviser John Bolton speaks during an interview at the White House in Washington, March 29, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Brendan McDermid.
Jack Detsch

Jack Detsch


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Iran Deal

Sep 10, 2019

President Donald Trump said his national security adviser John Bolton would leave the US administration, removing a hard-line architect of the ongoing pressure campaign against Iran.

Trump, who tweeted that he “disagreed strongly” with many of Bolton’s policy suggestions, reportedly clashed with the veteran of the four presidential administrations over the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan and Syria.

It appears the left-over National Security Council staff will remain in place for now, with Bolton ally Charles Kupperman taking over in an interim capacity. Where will Bolton’s departure cause changes?

Iran ‘maximum pressure’ campaign: Just weeks ahead of the UN General Assembly, Bolton’s exit raised speculation that the United States could reenter negotiations with Iran for a fresh nuclear deal. “Sure,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on Tuesday, when he was asked if Trump was willing to engage without preconditions on the sidelines of the world body’s annual meeting. For now, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said the United States would keep up its campaign of sanctions and military pressure.

Syria: Bolton, whose influence in the Trump administration had recently waned, was an architect of the administration’s efforts to expel Iran-backed proxies from Syria. That effort wasn’t an explicit condition of US policy until Bolton took the helm of the National Security Council.

Yemen: The Trump administration has reportedly been moving in the direction of talks with the Iran-backed Houthis to end the four-year war.

Legacy: While Bolton influenced a shift toward using financial and military pressure around the globe at the National Security Council, former administration officials said he was unable to build a policy process that aligned with Trump.

“There was never really a national security process that connected to the president. If you don’t have a connection to the president there’s not much of a meaningful process,” noted Brett McGurk, former Trump administration presidential envoy to the counter-Islamic State coalition, at an event at the Brookings Institution today.

What’s next: American Conservative Magazine is reporting that US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun, retired Army Col. Douglas MacGregor, US Iran envoy Brian Hook and others are already being floated for the job. 

Know more: Diplomatic correspondent Laura Rozen has been tracking President Trump’s efforts to lean into talks with Iran, which may get a boost with Bolton’s ouster.

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