Why the ‘Easing of Iran Sanctions’ Would Backfire

Following John Bolton’s departure from the Trump White House, will the administration’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran survive?

Two weeks ago US President Donald Trump fired John Bolton from his role as National Security Advisor. Trump indicated on twitter that he “strongly disagreed with many of his (Bolton’s) suggestions, as did others in the administration.”

The President’s final remarks followed the recent policy debacle over Afghanistan. Initially, Trump suggested he was open to pursuing U.S.-Taliban peace talks while Bolton openly and vehemently opposed this prospect. Ultimately, Trump retracted his position.

However, based on Trump’s most recent comments, Bolton’s dismissal may have been influenced by the administration’s Iran policy. On Monday, the notion of easing sanctions which target the Islamic Republic of Iran was discussed in the Oval Office, according to Bloomberg News. Unsurprisingly, Bolton, who has been consistently labeled for his “hawkish” tendencies and tough attitude toward Iran, opposed this idea.

Trump responded to speculation that he may be gearing up for a face-to-face with Rouhani alongside the UN General Assembly meeting next week with, “we’ll see what happens.”

Bolton had advocated that the U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) long before his appointment to National Security Advisor last May. In his 2017 open letter to the President, Bolton highlighted why the nuclear agreement threatened U.S. and Israeli national-security interests, and propped up a dangerous and unworthy regime. President Trump appeared to agree with Bolton’s stance, stating on many occasions that the JCPOA was the “worst deal ever negotiated” and a “disaster.”

With Bolton in place as NSA, Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement. When the departure came into full effect last November, the U.S. fully re-instated the sanctions on Iran that had been lifted or waived under the JCPOA. The U.S. Treasury Department declared that these sanctions were “the toughest U.S. sanctions ever imposed on Iran,” emphasizing the chaos they would bring to Iran’s economy and financial sectors.

The “maximum pressure” campaign has been fully supported and implemented by President Trump, John Bolton and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo. The prospect of Trump meeting with Rouhani could blur this strategy and ultimately underwrite the efforts of the administration thus far, which have been successful in damaging the regime’s credibility.

Retracting from a maximum pressure approach could further embolden Iranian aggression. President Rouhani seemed pleased with Bolton’s departure, calling for the U.S. to “put warmongers aside.” The regime’s recent behavior, however, should not illicit favorable policies on the part of the United States. In the last few months alone, Iran has initiated multiple attacks on oil vessels, demonstrating they are in fact capable of interrupting the global economic market. More recently, Iran has attacked Israel through its most dangerous terror proxy, Hezbollah, in various fire exchanges.

Last weekend U.S. intelligence confirmed Iran was the arbiter behind the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, crippling their oil production by 50%. The regime’s unhinged behavior follows the departure of Bolton, who perceptively warned Iran would take advantage of perceived weakness in the Trump administration.

Considering its close proximity to Iran, Israel would face the most immediate consequences of any U.S. policy reversal in this arena. The Trump administration must proceed carefully following Bolton’s departure as the easing of sanctions may not bode well for global security.

About the Author
I work at a Washington D.C. think tank- The Center for Security Policy. The Center focuses on national security matters. I just returned to the US from Israel where I received my MA in government with specialization in Counter-Terrorism from IDC Herzliya. I also interned at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism located on campus. My previous experience includes interning with Hudson Institute's Center for Political-Military Analysis, where I focused on China and Iran.
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