US President Donald Trump has fired John Bolton as national security adviser after months of tension over policy towards Iran and North Korea, saying he “disagreed strongly” with the hawkish aide on many positions.
“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” Mr Trump tweeted on Tuesday, adding that “others in the administration” had also disagreed with the White House’s top foreign policy official.
But Mr Bolton offered a different account of his departure, saying he had resigned.
“I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow’,” Mr Bolton tweeted shortly after Mr Trump made the announcement. Mr Trump said he would name a new national security adviser next week.
The firing of Mr Bolton was viewed as another victory for Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, who enjoys a very close relationship with Mr Trump. While Mr Pompeo and Mr Bolton are both hawks, Mr Pompeo had better subordinated his own views to the policies pushed by the president.
“There were definitely places that Ambassador Bolton and I had different views about how we should proceed,” Mr Pompeo said at a White House press briefing that Mr Bolton had originally been scheduled to attend.
Mr Pompeo made clear that Mr Trump had lost confidence in Mr Bolton, saying, “he should have people that he trusts and values and whose efforts and judgments benefit him in delivering American foreign policy”.
At Tuesday’s briefing, Steven Mnuchin, US Treasury secretary, said that he, Mr Pompeo and Mr Trump remained “completely aligned” to the president’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran, which has been hit by sweeping US sanctions since Washington unilaterally withdrew from a landmark Obama-era nuclear deal.
A hardliner who is a vocal proponent of the need to project American power, Mr Bolton had called for regime change in Iran and North Korea even before he entered the White House.
He was the third person to hold the critical White House position, having replaced HR McMaster, a retired general who fell out of favour with the president. Mr McMaster was appointed after Mike Flynn, his first security adviser, was fired within three weeks.
Mr Bolton’s departure follows a series of disagreements over US foreign policy at the highest levels of the Trump administration, including how to respond to provocations from Iran and North Korea as well as Mr Trump’s recent effort to negotiate a peace accord with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
“Bolton’s firing should be the least surprising news imaginable. Trump wants to cut a deal with Iran, the Taliban, and North Korea. He clearly thinks it would be easier to do that without Bolton so he’s out,” said Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution.
Most recently, Mr Bolton disagreed with Mr Trump over a peace deal that Zalmay Khalilzad, the state department’s Afghanistan envoy, had negotiated with the Taliban.
The firing of Mr Bolton, a Yale-educated lawyer and skilled bureaucratic infighter, comes after months of questions about whether Mr Trump was about to dismiss him.
In May, Mr Trump rejected suggestions that he was tiring of Mr Bolton, saying that he appreciated his advice even when it was out of tune with his other senior advisers.
“I actually temper John, which is pretty amazing,” Mr Trump said that month when asked if he retained confidence in Mr Bolton, who was initially passed over when Mr McMaster was named to the position.
While Mr Trump continues to support denuclearisation negotiations with North Korea and has said he would meet the leaders of Iran, Mr Bolton was deeply sceptical about that stance.
Oil prices fell on the news Mr Bolton was leaving the White House, with traders betting the likelihood of a conflict with Iran had been reduced. Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell by more than $1, or roughly 1.5 per cent, in the five minutes after Trump tweeted, to trade near $62.70 a barrel.
His exit is the latest in a series of cast changes in Mr Trump’s foreign policy team, coming after December’s departure of Jim Mattis, defence secretary. Mr Pompeo was appointed as the second secretary of state after Mr Trump fired Rex Tillerson last year.
Mr Bolton was, along with Mr Trump, a strong proponent of Brexit and was working with Boris Johnson’s government to ensure the US started to negotiate a free trade deal with Britain once the UK leaves the EU. He was also influential in the US’s decision last month to withdraw from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty after the US concluded that Russia was not adhering to the cold-war era arms control pact.
The White House said Charles Kupperman, who was Mr Bolton’s deputy, would serve as acting national security adviser until a replacement was named. Some of the national security experts being touted for the role include Steve Biegun, the state department’s North Korea envoy, and Rob Blair, an intelligence and foreign policy expert who serves as an adviser to Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff.
Other names being floated include Richard Grenell, a former aide to Mr Bolton who is US ambassador to Germany, and General Ricky Waddell, an assistant to the chairman of the joint chiefs who previously spent a year in the White House as deputy national security adviser.
Mr Biegun, a well-respected foreign policy expert who has close ties to Mr Pompeo would be an obvious choice for the position. But he has also been mentioned as a possible replacement for John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state who is expected to be nominated as US ambassador to Russia following the departure of Jon Huntsman.
Additional reporting by Peter Wells in New York and David Sheppard in London
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