How Trump just separated himself from Pompeo and Bolton on Iran – Washington Examiner

President Trump on Thursday distanced his Iran position from that of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton.

As Trump put it, “What [Iran] should be doing is calling me up, sitting down, and we can make a deal. A fair deal. We just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons, it’s not too much to ask. And we would help put them back into great shape. They’re in bad shape right now. I look forward to the day when we can actually help Iran. We’re not looking to hurt Iran. I want them to be strong, and great, and have a great economy.”

Trump is right to take this line. Still, it represents a striking departure from Pompeo and Bolton’s positions. Don’t take my word for it, take Pompeo’s. In a speech last May, Pompeo outlined 12 separate conditions for the removal of U.S. sanctions on Iran. These included not simply Trump’s nuclear deal related concerns of an open-ended deal timeline, ballistic missile restrictions, and warhead development, but of Iran’s abandonment of its current foreign policy. And Bolton isn’t just a hawk on Iran, he’s a dragon.

This distinction matters. Growing Trump administration sanctions on Iran are necessary to force Iran back to the negotiating table, but Pompeo and Bolton have far broader objectives than Trump. And the risk here is that the gap between Trump and Pompeo-Bolton fosters a misunderstanding on the part of the Iranian regime. Namely, that the hardliner bloc under the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps will believe Trump wants the regime to abandon its theological essence, rather than simply its nuclear ambitions. As long as Iran retains its Khomeneist ideology, it will never negotiate in the manner Pompeo demands, because to do so would be to end its existence.

Bolton and Pompeo aren’t wrong to counter Iranian escalation or to restrain Iran’s malevolent foreign policy. But Trump is right to keep the conditions for new nuclear negotiations focused on Iran’s nuclear threat. He should double down on his statement as issued on Thursday. Doing so will advance the diplomatic process.

[Related: Trump praises Bolton amid suggestions he’s frustrated with his hawkish adviser]

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