Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview that he expects the Trump administration to remain “very, very tough” on Iran after the departure of US National Security Advisor John Bolton, recognized as the White House’s main pro-military hawk, The Hill reported Wednesday.
“So I am convinced, I have no doubts at all, that in any situation — with talks, without talks — President Trump and his administration will be very, very tough with Iran,” Netanyahu told Israel’s Channel 20.
Netanyahu reportedly cited sanctions against the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) introduced by the White House on 10 September, shortly after Bolton’s departure was announced, as evidence that the Trump administration is keen to continue its “maximum pressure” policy on Tehran.
On Wednesday, however, Trump appeared to leave open the possibility of easing the sanctions Iran.
“I do believe they’d like to make a deal,” Trump told reporters at the White House, according to The New York Times. “If they do, that’s great; and if they don’t, that’s great too. But they have tremendous financial difficulty, and the sanctions are getting tougher and tougher.”
When asked by reporters whether he would consider easing sanctions against the Islamic republic, Trump shrugged and responded in his trademark fashion: “We’ll see what happens.”
Tehran repeatedly said it views the removal of sanctions as a precondition for any negotiations with Washington.
Bolton was characterized as the Trump administration’s most prominent “hawk,” and Trump described his now-fired cabinet appointee as “definitely a hawk.” Bolton is believed to an advocate for a military confrontation with Iran. Following his departure, Tehran welcomed the move, urging Trump to shun “warmongers.”
Iran is believed to be one of the key topics on which Trump and Bolton disagreed, which eventually led to Bolton’s exit.
Shortly after Bolton’s departure, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Trump might meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations General Assembly this month, The Hill report says.
Speaking in an interview, Netanyahu refrained from further comment on Trump’s moves, pointing out that it is the president and Pompeo who will decide.
“Look, the one who formally crafted the American policy was Pompeo [...] and president Trump of course. But I’m not getting into the personality changes in this administration,” Netanyahu said in the interview.
The Trump administration adopted a hard-line stance on Iran, withdrawing from the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal, slapping new sanctions on Iran and cutting its trading capacity in a bid to force Tehran into a new deal beyond its nuclear program.
The confrontation escalated earlier this year, when the US moved additional military forces into the Gulf region and Iran downed an American drone after claiming that violated Iranian airspace. The US military maintained that the drone was in international airspace.
At the time, Trump appeared to refuse to escalate further, but his administration shortly imposed sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, barring him entry into the US.
As Iran’s top diplomat remains persona non grata in Washington, Trump will have a difficult time making a deal with Tehran.