ISTANBUL — John Bolton’s abrupt departure as White House national security adviser will not pave the way for direct talks between the United States and Iran, officials in Tehran said, even as some welcomed the removal of one of the Trump administration’s chief hawks on Iran.
Iran is opposed to meeting with U.S. officials as long as economic sanctions are in place, the officials said, adding that the United States must lift all trade restrictions as a prerequisite for talks.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged the United States on Wednesday to “abandon warmongers and warmongering policies,” in an apparent reference to Bolton, who pushed for more-aggressive action against Iran.
Bolton, who was removed Tuesday, was instrumental in shaping the administration’s hard-line policies on Iran, and his departure raised speculation that the White House was preparing for a potential encounter between Trump and Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this month.
Trump has repeatedly called for talks without preconditions, despite having abandoned the 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and world powers that curbed Iran’s atomic energy activities in exchange for major sanctions relief. Trump reimposed a near-total economic embargo on Iran last year. In recent months, Iran has restarted some nuclear activities restricted under the deal.
“Our position [on negotiations] has nothing to do with changes in the U.S. administration,” Iran’s envoy to the United Nations said of Bolton’s exit.
“Bolton was known as a hard-liner, and even Trump noted that,” Majid Takht Ravanchi said in comments carried by state media Wednesday. The envoy added, however, that it was “too early to tell” what the effect of Bolton’s resignation would be.
As the administration turned up its economic pressure on Iran this year, tensions soared in the Persian Gulf region and strained relations between the United States and its European and Arab allies.
The United States targeted Iran’s oil sales, designated its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization and imposed sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Attacks on commercial tankers near the Strait of Hormuz threatened global oil shipments, and the downing of a U.S. spy drone by Iranian forces nearly prompted an American counterstrike, bringing the region to the brink of war.
Bolton “was a key proponent of the aborted strike on Iran and of regime change there,” said Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the New York-based political risk firm Eurasia Group. “The chance of U.S. strikes on Iran . . . also goes down with his departure.”
Bolton also applauded authorities in Britain and Gibraltar for detaining an Iranian supertanker suspected of carrying oil to Syria, in violation of European Union sanctions. Its detention kicked off a weeks-long crisis between Iran and the British government, and resulted in Iranian naval forces impounding a British-flagged tanker traveling through the Strait of Hormuz.
But even with Bolton gone, it remains unclear whether Iran will eventually agree to negotiate with the United States. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has the final say on whether Rouhani or other officials can meet with U.S. counterparts.
As part of the talks, the Trump administration says it wants Iran to give up its ballistic missile program, abandon support for proxy forces and agree to more-stringent restrictions on its nuclear activities. Iran has portrayed all three issues as vital to its national security.
A meeting between Trump and Rouhani might be “a bridge too far for the Rouhani administration, who may consider it too risky to negotiate [with] Trump in a moment of flux,” wrote Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Bourse & Bazaar, a website featuring economic analysis on Iran.
“Iran’s political predicament and economic pains are not John Bolton’s fault,” Batmanghelidj wrote. “But Bolton consistently pushed U.S. policy in directions that were perceived by Iranians as ‘war by other means.’ ”
On Twitter, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei called Bolton the Trump administration’s “biggest proponent of war & economic terrorism.”
But now that he is out, Rabiei said, “the White House will have fewer obstacles to understanding the realities of Iran.”