WASHINGTON – Efforts to synchronize US and Israeli policy on Iran ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week were spearheaded by Michael Flynn, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, who had planned to usher both leaders through a critical discussion over the country’s nuclear program in the Oval Office.
Flynn was the president’s “point person” for the meeting, according to Trump aide Kellyanne Conway, who described Netanyahu’s visit as a “big week” for the new national security adviser.
But the tight structure that is typically characteristic of a meeting between two heads of government was thrown into uncertainty just one day before Netanyahu’s scheduled visit, when Flynn resigned in disgrace shortly after Netanyahu landed in Washington.
Flynn was asked to step down after US media reported he had lied to Trump administration colleagues about the nature of a phone conversation he held with Russia’s ambassador to Washington in December. After he claimed for weeks the phone call was merely meant to relay holiday greetings, US intelligence agencies revealed the call had in fact included reassurances from Flynn that Trump, once in office, could ease sanctions on Russia leveled by the Obama administration over Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump and his team were informed that transcripts of the call existed weeks before the story was leaked to The Washington Post. The White House acted only after the story went public.
Republican leaders – including the Senate’s second-highest ranking member, John Cornyn of Texas – are expressing serious concern.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona said Flynn’s resignation was “a troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus,” and several of his colleagues joined him in calling for a congressional investigation into the Trump administration’s ties with the Kremlin.
Netanyahu will be the first foreign leader to experience the National Security Council’s dysfunction firsthand. He enters Wednesday’s meetings hoping to secure assurances from Trump that he will act more aggressively than his predecessor to counter Iran’s malign activities. He also plans to discuss the longterm dangers built in to an international deal governing Iran’s nuclear program.
The Israeli premier hopes to establish redlines for what Iranian actions would trigger US counteractions, such as additional sanctions.
In his short time at the White House, Flynn led the administration’s effort to coordinate policy with Israel on Iran. His one and only public appearance was to put Iran “on notice” on February 1 over its continued testing of ballistic missiles and its supporting of Houthi rebels in Yemen.
But Flynn enjoyed consensus in the Trump administration on Iran, and the policies he was pursuing are likely to continue on under the direction of the rest of Trump’s team, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Trump on Tuesday named Lt.-Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg, Jr. as his acting national security adviser, and is considering several current and former military men to permanently fill the post. Reportedly leading the pack is Robert Harward, a former Navy SEAL and deputy chief of the United States Central Command, who is fluent in Farsi.
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