World

Tensions over Taleban talks led to Trump firing Bolton

US president now on hunt for fourth national security adviser

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump and his national security adviser John Bolton were always unlikely foreign policy allies.

Mr Bolton, known in Washington for his hawkish approach to US foreign policy, was sceptical of Mr Trump's North Korea strategy and efforts to woo Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He was also supportive of an Iraq war hated by his boss.

Still, they worked together relatively smoothly for 17 months, with Mr Bolton pressing his hawkish views behind the scenes.

Mr Trump's pursuit of a dialogue with Taleban leaders over the future of Afghanistan proved to be a bridge too far, however, and that ended with him firing Mr Bolton by tweet earlier this week.

Two sources said one thing that bothered Mr Trump was the possibility that Mr Bolton let it be known that Vice-President Mike Pence shared his opposition to Mr Trump's effort to bring Taleban leaders to the presidential retreat of Camp David to try to reach a peace deal.

The implication was Mr Bolton was trying to ally himself with Mr Pence and send Mr Trump a message that even the Vice-President disagreed with him, the sources said.

SCRAPPED TALKS

Mr Trump scrapped the Camp David talks over the weekend after an American soldier was killed by a suicide bomber in the capital Kabul last week.

Mr Bolton believed the US could withdraw 5,000 of the nearly 14,000 US troops in Afghanistan and still maintain an effective counter-terrorism force there without cutting a deal with the enemy, sources said.

There were already hints of disruption before the weekend.

Officials in the White House noted that Mr Bolton declined to appear on the agenda-setting Sunday TV talk shows while Mr Trump was at the G-7 summit in France last month promoting the idea of bringing Russia back into the group and possibly holding talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Inside the West Wing, staff said they had noticed a change in Mr Bolton in recent months.

He had grown more quiet, was not confrontational, and was more frequently travelling abroad.

While top advisers often flew with the President on Air Force One on foreign trips, Mr Bolton more often than not would take his own plane, taking side trips to countries not on Mr Trump's itinerary.

"That was always a little odd," one source said.

Mr Bolton frequently told interviewers that his views on major foreign policy challenges had not changed for years.

As national security adviser, he worked to disconnect the US from a number of global treaties, believing they would hamstring the country in the end.

He was a strong advocate for sanctions against Iran and the ouster of Mr Nicolas Maduro as President of Venezuela, and told Russian officials that Moscow should not interfere in US elections, positions Mr Trump largely went along with while keeping a door open to Mr Putin.

"He stuck to his principles," said a source. - REUTERS

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