Trump and Bolton, known for his hawkish views, had disagreed on key foreign policy challenges including Russia, North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan. Last year Bolton masterminded a quiet campaign inside the administration – and with allies abroad – to persuade Trump to keep US forces in Syria to counter the remnants of the Islamic State group and Iranian influence in the region.
According to US media reports, the president’s extraordinary, failed bid to fly Taliban leaders to the presidential retreat at Camp David last weekend sparked a major and final row.
But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cautioned that Bolton’s exit should not be interpreted as heralding a change in strategy.
“I don’t think any leader around the world should make any assumption that because someone of us departs that President Trump’s foreign policy will change in a material way,” Pompeo told reporters.
A replacement – the White House’s fourth national security chief in less than three years – would be named next week, Trump said.
Officials in several countries welcomed Bolton’s departure while others played down its importance.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei responded to the news with a tweet: “John Bolton had promised months ago that Iran would last for another three months. We are still standing and he is gone. With the expulsion of the biggest proponent of war and economic terrorism, the White House will face fewer obstacles in understanding Iran’s realities.” He later called Bolton “the symbol of America’s hawkish policies and its animosity toward Iran”.
As a private citizen Bolton had gone as far as to advocate military action to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme. In 2015 he wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times bluntly headlined, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” He has also argued for driving Iranian oil exports to zero and was strongly against Trump’s recent offer to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Bolton’s departure from the White House removes an obstacle to the possibility of US-Iranian nuclear talks, but the odds of such a dialogue leading anywhere concrete remain low.
Rouhani, for his part, signaled his approval of the firing by urging the US to “put warmongers aside”.
So far European leaders have remained largely circumspect about how Bolton’s departure might affect relations with the bloc. But Norbert Roettgen, chairman of the foreign policy commission of the German parliament and a senior lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, cautiously welcomed the move, telling Reuters: “It is an opportunity, not least for the trans-Atlantic relationship.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said he had “no expectation” that relations with the US would improve anytime soon.
“We have observed several times in the past that changes in the US administration bring no improvement,” he told the Novosti news agency. “We judge on acts, not declarations or intentions. When we see progress, then we can say that something has changed.”
Bolton has championed one of Trump’s biggest foreign policy pushes, seeking to topple Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a leftist who presides over a crumbling economy.
Officials in Venezuela, some of whom had personal beefs with Bolton, greeted the news with unfettered joy. “The historical truth has vanquished the demons of war!” Minister of Industry Tareck El Aissami, who had been singled out by Bolton for his alleged involvement in drug trafficking, crowed on Twitter.
In November, Bolton undiplomatically said during an address to veterans of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba that Venezuela was now part of a “troika of tyranny” along with Cuba and Nicaragua.
“On days like this, the Comandate would treat himself to some sweet papaya,” said another senior official, referring to the late President Hugo Chavez’s love for a traditional Venezuelan dessert and suggesting celebrations were in order.
While North Korea has thus far refrained from issuing an official response, officials have made their feelings about Bolton clear in the past, having denounced him as a “war maniac” and as “human scum”.
His own criticism of the totalitarian state goes far back. In 2003 Bolton, then a State Department official, called then leader Kim Jong Il a “tyrannical dictator”.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)
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