President Donald Trump's decision Thursday to name John R. Bolton as his new national security adviser greatly increased the likelihood of a US exit from the Iran nuclear deal next month, according to analysts.
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Bolton's appointment does not make a departure from the deal inevitable, but it "certainly increases the likelihood," Richard Nephew, a principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the State Department during the Obama administration, said Thursday.
Trump announced on Twitter Thursday that Bolton, a Fox News analyst and former US ambassador, would replace Lt. General H.R. McMaster as his national security adviser effective April 9.
Nephew said that while Trump will continue to receive policy advice from some within the White House with more "mainstream" views on Iran, Bolton's outspoken opposition to the deal could win out.
"Bolton is an unrepentant advocate of regime change against Iran and his demands for the May 12 ultimatum -- in a practical sense -- will be sharper than those of McMaster," Nephew said.
May 12 is the next deadline for the US to waive oil-related sanctions on Tehran as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Trump has said he would refuse to authorize that waiver again if the US Congress and European partners do not "fix" terms of the nuclear agreement. The US would be seen as violating the JCPOA if Trump does not continue to waive the sanctions.
"I think my long-standing hope for a fix to the Iran deal just died," Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted shortly after Bolton's appointment was announced Thursday. Dubowitz has pushed for a "fix" to the deal
In August, Bolton published a five-page memo titled "How to Get Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal" outlining political and diplomatic means to find Iran in breach of the agreement, ultimately undoing the deal.
"The administration should have a Capitol Hill plan to inform members of Congress already concerned about Iran, and develop momentum for imposing broad sanctions against Iran, far more comprehensive than the pinprick sanctions favored under prior administrations," Bolton wrote.
Bolton's appointment comes just nine days after Trump fired former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and replaced him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, an opponent of the Iran deal.
The decision also came two days after Trump welcomed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the White House where the two spoke of the Iran deal. Saudi Arabia has been pressing the Trump administration to take a harder line on Iran.
"A lot of bad things are happening in Iran," Trump said Tuesday ahead of the meeting with Salman. "The [Iran nuclear] deal is coming up in one month and you will see what happens."
A freeze on Western sanctions since the nuclear deal has allowed more than 1 million b/d of Iranian crude to return to the global market. It is unclear how quickly sanctions may be reimposed or what impact a unilateral action by the US may have.
Iran's oil production averaged 3.83 million b/d in February, up from 2.8 million b/d in 2015, before the sanctions were lifted, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
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