‘I Rule the White House’: Will Bolton’s ouster help Trump facilitate US-Iran negotiations?

‘I Rule the White House’: Will Bolton’s ouster help Trump facilitate US-Iran negotiations?

Most analysts agree that Donald Trump’s main motivation for dismissing his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, was that Bolton had been giving off the impression that he was the real decision-maker in the White House, while the president was merely a talking puppet.

Looking at Trump’s career, even before coming into office, it is clear that he is a man who cannot tolerate being subordinated to anyone. Trump sees himself as a leader who gives orders and expects his employees to execute them like soldiers.

The only thing Trump wants to hear from his underlings is “Yes, Sir.”

A few articles published after Bolton’s ouster have suggested that the disagreement centered around the question of easing sanctions against Iran in order to facilitate a meeting between Trump and Hassan Rouhani, the president of the Islamic Republic.

A few weeks earlier, Trump was at the G7 meeting in France when Mr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister of Iran, suddenly arrived at the request of French President Emmanuelle Macron. He met with both Macron and French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Laudrian in Biarritz while Trump had dinner with the other G7 leaders.

The next day, less than 12 hours after Zarif met with the French leaders, President Rouhani said that he is ready to sit and talk to “anyone” if it is in the interests of the Iranian people and could help solve their ongoing problems.

As someone who has been affiliated with the Iranian policy for decades, I can assure you that President Rouhani is not a person prone to slips of the tongue: he is a veteran politician and carefully chooses every word he says.

Given the current tense political situation in Iran, these words would be political suicide for most politicians, especially if this “anyone” includes Trump, a person who has not been shy about insulting Iran and its leadership, and the main culprit behind the cancellation of the JCPOA. Trump has also implemented heavy sanctions against the Iranian people during his time as commander-in-chief.

We should, therefore, presume that there is something else happening in the background. While only the future can tell us for sure, some analysts believe an agreement was reached wherein Rouhani would announce that he is ready to meet Trump if Trump agreed to allow restore exemptions for the 8 countries buying Iranian oil, and allow the European INSTEX program to kick off with an initial €15 billion investment.

However, as it turned out, Trump wasn’t ready to make any such statement, despite that it was all but expected during the news conference he held alongside Macron. It is likely, however, that the 12 hours which separated Rouhani’s speech and the news conference were packed with calls from Benjamin Netanyahu, John Bolton and the other members of the so-called “B4” (Benjamin Netanyahu, John Bolton, Mohammad Bin Salman and Mohammad Bin Zayed).

Some analysts have suggested that Trump was threatened by someone privy to information that could get him disqualified in the 2020 presidential race.

If we link this to the report published by Politico which claims to have found Israeli spy-instruments around the white house and other places in Washington, it is probable that Trump and his family and/or staff were spied on, perhaps even with Bolton’s permission.

However, there are also reports that news emerged over the past couple of weeks claiming that Bolton had been hiding information from Trump regarding the peace talks in Afghanistan, and telling others that Trump couldn’t be trusted with it.

Some believe that Mr. Zalmai Khalil Zad, the American envoy to the Afghan peace negotiations, was coordinating the talks with Bolton and keeping a low profile around Trump.

Well, there are dozens of possible reasons for Trump to have dismissed his advisor, Bolton’s removal is a sigh of relief for the majority of the world, and especially the Iranians.

Bolton was a war-hawk who helped drag the US into the Afghan and Iraq wars. Even though he knew that another war could cost Trump the election, he was heavily in favor of initiating conflict with Iran.

Bolton saw himself as protected by powerful lobbies within the US and therefore didn’t care if Trump was re-elected.

Bolton participated in many Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization meetings and received more than $180,000 for a speech where he promised the members of this group (which is considered a terrorist organization in Iran and many other countries around the world) they would celebrate Nowruz (the Iranian New Year) together in Tehran.

While the Iranians don’t expect that Trump will choose someone much better than Bolton as far as enmity against Iran goes, Bolton’s dismissal is nonetheless one major enemy out of the picture.

While the B4 group has now become the B3, the forces who were backing Bolton are still in power, and the American administration is still stuffed by pro-war neocons and enemies of Iran.



Some believe that Trump dismissed Bolton because he wanted to negotiate with Iran on his own terms, and knew Bolton would attempt to sabotage his efforts. There have been reports that Trump and Rouhani shook hands in the UN lobby.

Again, it is impossible to say with 100% certainty what motivated Trump’s decision, but this version of events is perhaps the most probable.

It is important to note, however, that Iran cannot be compared to North Korea (or any other country in the world), and that the Iranian president is not Kim Jong Un. He cannot force his will and make top-down decisions for the entire country. There are certain domestic challenges the Iranian president faces which he cannot overcome on his own.

The most important challenge he faces is the strong anti-American sentiment among Iran’s politicians and population.

Any analyst can tell you that the P5+1 talks with Iran were mainly talks between Iran and the US and that the Iranian and American foreign ministers have talked together in private for many hours. It is difficult to believe that Javad Zarif and John Kerry sat for 17 hours behind closed doors just to discuss the politics of 3.67% Uranium enrichment.

This meeting was also very likely the start of the JCPOA and included promises that, if the cooperation was successful, the two countries would be able to move forward.

After all, no-one can deny that the attack against ISIS in the Iraqi city of Mosul was undertaken by Iranian ground troops and the US air force. Ask anyone with military experience whether or not such an attack could have been carried out without direct coordination.

The Iranian foreign minister did not sit with John Kerry merely because he was a representative of ex-president Barack Obama: he sat with the acting foreign minister of the US, and the JCPOA was later signed by the US administration.

The Iranian people believe that their country has already negotiated with the Americans and that a deal has already been reached, and that the issue is that that the Americans won’t abide by their agreement. What guarantee is there that if the Iranians sit down and renegotiate, the Americans won’t simply renege on the agreement yet again?

Although the administration is promising to get congressional approval, this is little more than a promise: Trump has proven that when it comes to negotiating with Washington, there are no guarantees.

In this situation, no Iranian politician will be ready to endanger his political future by entering into, or even advocating for, public talks with Americans, especially given that we are nearing the next Iranian parliamentary elections. Pushing for talks without any guarantees could lead to the fall of an entire political wing in the country.

The only choice Iranian politicians have is to refuse to accept any such meeting until after some sanctions have already been removed; something concrete to show them that American policy toward Iran is capable of changing.

On the other side, the Americans believe that the only way they can bring Iran to the negotiating table is through pressure and sanctions and that if they ease the pressure, the Iranians will never budge, and Trump’s policy will be seen as a failure.

The debate right now is not even about whether or not talks will take place: it is about how to restore trust between the two countries. The keys to the negotiation-room door were stuck as a result of the administration’s refusal to compromise on sanctions, a position which was unwavering predominantly thanks to John Bolton.

With Bolton finally gone, the question is now whether or not the Europeans will be able to get the keys out.

Emad Abshenass
Journalist, writer and Political Science professor (Iran)

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June 2024