Tensions rise between Trump and Bolton on Iran, calls adviser a 'hawk'

"If it was up to him, Bolton would take on the whole world at the same time,” US President Donald Trump told NBC's "Meet the Press" this week, just ahead of John Bolton's visit to Israel.

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June 25, 2019 12:59
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Security Advisor John Bolton in Jerusalem, June 23, 2019

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Security Advisor John Bolton in Jerusalem, June 23, 2019. (photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/HAARETZ)

 
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US President Donald Trump called his National Security Adviser John Bolton “absolutely a hawk” in an interview with NBC’s Meet The Press on Friday. He added that, “if it was up to him, Bolton would take on the whole world at the same time.”

Trump made these remarks when the show's moderator Chuck Todd asked him whether he felt that he was being pushed into military action against Iran by any if his advisers, after Tehran downed a US drone on Thursday.

“I have two groups of people: I have doves and I have hawks,” Trump said. “I want both sides.”




Trump’s statement, which was perceived by many as an attack on Bolton, occurred just ahead of his visit to Israel.

The national security adviser arrived in the Jewish state on Sunday. Prior to a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Bolton told reporters that Iran should not view Trump’s decision not to strike Iranian targets as a show of weakness.

“Neither Iran nor any other hostile actor should mistake U.S. prudence and discretion for weakness," Bolton said, anticipating the new wave of sanctions on the Islamic republic that Trump imposed on Monday. "No one has granted them a hunting license in the Middle East.”  

This most recent executive order denies “Iran's supreme leader and his associates access to key financial resources and support,” the White House wrote in a tweet.

Bolton was appointed National Security adviser in April 2018, replacing retired general H.R. McMaster. He had previously served as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs, and then as permanent representative of the US to the UN under President George W. Bush. 

He has been a long-standing critic of the nuclear deal reached with Iran in 2015, as was revealed through several documents leaked to Axios that were published on Monday.

The news website, founded by some former Politico staffers, reported on the vetting process for positions within the Trump administration and “red flags” concerning dozens of potential officials. These included Bolton, James Mattis, Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson.

Bolton's red flags, which were mentioned in the document prepared by the Republican National Committee, included his criticism of Trump’s remarks against NATO and a joke about Iran “nuking Chicago:" 

"The fact is that on foreign policy, I don't think President Obama thinks it's a priority," Bolton said at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2009, as reported by Mother Jones. "He said during the campaign that he thought Iran was a tiny threat," Bolton said about Obama. "Tiny, tiny - depending on how many nuclear weapons they are ultimately able to deliver on target. Its, uh, its tiny compared to the Soviet Union - but is the loss of one American city" - and here Bolton changes his tone subtly to prepare for the joke - "pick one at random - Chicago - is that a tiny threat?’”

Disagreements between Trump and his advisers over the right approach to have with Tehran were already reported before the recent drone incident and the latest attack against two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman in mid-June, for which Washington and many in the international community have blamed the Islamic republic.

On May 15, The Washington Post reported that Trump was frustrated with Bolton and Defense Secretary Mike Pompeo over what he saw as war-like planning against Iran, an approach that contradicted his commitment to avoid costly conflicts on foreign soil.

When asked by Todd on Meet the Press why he was willing to get involved in the Middle East, and in a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Trump said that the reason was “because of nuclear weapons; it has nothing to do with oil.” Trump added that he wanted to protect Israel and also Saudi Arabia, which is “buying $400 billion worth of things from us, it is a good thing."

During his visit to Israel, Bolton also toured the Jordan Valley and took a helicopter tour with Netanyahu of the Jerusalem district and the security fence.

“I just think it’s too bad, prime minister, that more Americans can’t come to locations like this, see the geography, understand its significance, understand how it affects Israel’s critical security position, and explain why Israel has taken the view that it has,” Bolton said. “I can assure you that President Trump will take the concerns, which you have voiced so clearly over the years, very much into account as we go forward on this."

On Monday, Bolton met with his Russian counterpart Nikolay Patrushev in Jerusalem, discussing Ukraine, arms control and Venezuela, among other issues.

“Looking forward to historic trilateral meeting tomorrow on Middle East regional security with our Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat,” Bolton added in a tweet, referring to a meeting that will take place between Israel, the United States and Russia on Tuesday.

Bolton is scheduled to address journalists in Jerusalem on Tuesday afternoon before leaving Israel as well.


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