Washington — US President Trump on Wednesday named Robert C. O'Brien as his new national security advisor, diminishing the dim prospect that US sanctions on Iranian oil flows may be eased.
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"I'm skeptical that this will generate a significant shift in the US position on Iran," Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, told S&P Global Platts Wednesday. "O'Brien has solid credentials and a reputation for responsible, centrist positions. And I'm not sure how much any of the men in these positions have really mattered when it comes to shaping the president's instincts on high-profile policies."
O'Brien replaces John Bolton, an Iran hawk who was fired by Trump last week, contributing to a roughly $1/b dip in oil futures prices on speculation of a shift in sanctions policy.
Maloney said while Trump appreciates "tough talk" from the hawks, he typically follows his own path on Iran policy.
"Having in many ways precipitated this crisis with Iran, Trump now seems disinclined to contemplate much beyond more sanctions," Maloney said. "Perhaps an ideologue as [national security advisor] might be able to sway him toward intervention, but given his consistency on that point and well-honed political instincts, I'm skeptical."
Trump tweeted Wednesday that he directed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to "substantially increase" sanctions on Iran, but it is unclear what additional actions may be taken.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah Wednesday to discuss Saturday's attacks on the Abqaiq processing facility and Khurais oil field. Pompeo has blamed the attacks on Iran.
ANOTHER IRAN HAWK?
O'Brien, who was special presidential envoy for hostage affairs at the State Department and previously was a trial attorney with a Los Angeles practice he co-founded, may not differ substantially from Bolton's views on Iran.
In his 2016 book, "While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis," dedicated a chapter to criticism of the Iran nuclear deal brokered during the Obama administration.
"Iran is a sworn enemy of the United States," O'Brien wrote. "It is a revolutionary regime committed to changing the contours of the entire Middle East and destroying America's key regional ally, Israel."
Iranian oil exports, which averaged more than 1.7 million b/d in March, fell below 424,500 b/d in August, according to data from S&P Global Platts trade flow software cFlow.
The US fully imposed sanctions on Iranian crude and condensate exports in May when it allowed waivers to Iran's biggest buyers to expire.
-- Brian Scheid, email@example.com
-- Edited by Jonathan Dart, firstname.lastname@example.org