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Analysts downplay sanctions impact of Bolton's White House exit


Bolton's views on Iran, Venezuela remain in Trump administration

Trump-Rouhani meeting remains unlikely

Maximum pressure campaign expected to stay in place

Washington — John Bolton's departure from the Trump White House likely will not cause a significant shift in US oil sanctions policy, a wave of purchases of currently illicit Iranian and Venezuelan barrels nor new waivers for US companies to work with PDVSA.

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After Bolton was unceremoniously dismissed from his position as Trump's national security advisor Tuesday, oil market analysts were quick to dismiss speculation that the ouster would have much significant impact.

A potential New York meeting later this month between President Trump and Iran President Hassan Rouhani has roughly the same odds of happening now, as it did when Bolton was employed by the Trump administration, they said. Bolton's departure is unlikely to cause the US to lessen its "maximum pressure" sanctions campaign on Iran nor Venezuela, they said. In addition, longstanding joint ventures with PDVSA, Venezuela's state oil company, remain at risk.

While Bolton is a hawk on Iran and Venezuela, so are several officials remaining within the Trump administration, particularly Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump himself.

"Secretary Pompeo is now the clear leader of the Trump national security team, and you would be hard-pressed to find a bigger hawk on both Venezuela and Iran," said Joe McMonigle, an analyst with Hedgeye Risk Management. "In addition, we suspect Bolton's replacement will be similar to his views on both topics."

Bolton has been viewed as a proponent of pursuing a military option in Iran, and that option likely remains on the table even with his departure, said Amy Myers Jaffe, director of the Council on Foreign Relations' energy security and climate program.

"His departure may end up being not so significant," she said.

Analysts said Bolton's exit may at least offer the perception that the US may be more open to negotiations, or as Sarah Ladislaw, director of the Center for Strategic & International Studies' energy and national security program, puts it a "posture change in willingness to negotiate."

"But, as we've seen in many instances, those negotiations don't necessarily yield meaningful outcomes," Ladislaw said.

Much of the speculation over Bolton's departure centered on the possibility of a meeting between Trump and Rouhani during the UN General Assembly meeting later this month.

McMonigle said the odds of that meeting remain "close to zero."

Henry Rome, an Iran analyst with the Eurasia Group, said that while Bolton's removal may be "constructive" for US-Iran diplomacy "formidable obstacles" to a Trump-Rouhani meeting remain.

"Trump wants a meeting without sanctions relief--that's true regardless of whether Bolton is in the picture. Iran wants sanctions relief without a meeting," Rome said. "It's hard enough for conservatives in Iran to stomach a meeting with a US president, harder still with someone like Trump. But a meeting with no tangible economic benefits? No way."

-- Brian Scheid,

-- Edited by Richard Rubin,