Bolton exit provides an opportunity for Iran talks

Whether national security adviser John Bolton was fired by President Donald Trump or he quit is irrelevant. The change in foreign policy leadership will have a profound impact on how this administration's Iran policy is shaped and implemented. 

While it's fair to call both Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hawkish on Iran, their posturing on best practices for dealing with Tehran have always differed.

Bolton favored the ever-present threat of military action against the Islamic republic and has often openly advocated for it, including the episode in June when Trump approved military strikes in response to the downing of a U.S. drone, which he abruptly aborted when he learned the projected casualties.

Bolton’s absence also means that the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), a reviled Iranian opposition group that long lived on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups, no longer has a powerful ally in the White House.

The now former national security adviser and ambassador to the United Nations was one of dozens of U.S. politicians, including Rudy Giuliani, to accept large speaking fees in exchange for publicly advocating the organization as a viable replacement for the Islamic republic.

The MEK can claim no popular support, and among Iranians of nearly all political orientations, inside the country and in the diaspora, it was Bolton's paid alliance with the cult-like group that made him such an odious character.

With the MEK suddenly nowhere in the conversation, ordinary Iranians who would prefer to see their government negotiate its way out of the sanctions that currently have a stranglehold on the country's economy will be more inclined than ever to support such a process with U.S. leaders. And those millions of Iranians who prefer a regime change can be more confident now that the United States has no serious plans to install the hated group if the Islamic republic were ever toppled.

Either way, when it comes to Iran, the Trump administration's hands are no longer tied by Bolton, an ideologue who views diplomacy as a weakness rather than a tool.

The shake-up creates the first real opportunity for Trump to pursue a policy of engaging Iran, which both he and Pompeo have publicly advocated for since this administration's decision to exit the 2015 nuclear accord with the Islamic republic.

Trump and Pompeo must now make a clear choice and stick with it: actively pursue a new deal with Iran's leadership as Trump has promised to do since he was a candidate, or continue with the disingenuous charade that is their "maximum pressure" campaign, a policy that has only had the discernible effect of making the lives of average Iranians more miserable.

Trump and Pompeo have repeatedly put the possibility of new talks, without preconditions, on the table. Now they can prove it. If President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, refuse the offer to meet with their U.S. counterparts, it is they who will suddenly appear to be the unreasonable party.

Jason Rezaian is a writer for Global Opinions. He served as The Washington Post's correspondent in Tehran from 2012 to 2016. He spent 544 days unjustly imprisoned by Iranian authorities until his release in January.

 

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