President Donald Trump on Saturday praised national security adviser John Bolton after the U.S. this week backed away from a potentially deadly confrontation with Iran.
“Yeah, I do,” Trump said when asked by reporters if he has confidence in Bolton, adding that as president, he ultimately makes the final decisions on defense and foreign policy.
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“I disagree very much with John Bolton. His attitude in the Middle East and Iraq — was going into Iraq, I think that was a big mistake and I’ve been proven right but I’ve been against that forever. John Bolton is doing a very good job but he takes a generally tough posture.”
After calling Bolton a “hawk,” Trump added, “I have other people that don’t take that posture, but the only one that matters is me.”
There has been speculation in recent months that Trump is frustrated with Bolton, and that he feels Bolton’s hawkishness is boxing him in on Iran and other fronts.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said Thursday that it shot down an unmanned U.S. drone that had crossed into its territory over the Gulf of Oman, a claim that is disputed by the U.S., which says the drone was in international airspace. The act exacerbated growing tensions between the two historic adversaries following the bombings of several tankers in the strategically important Straight of Hormuz.
Trump had previously confirmed aspects of media reports that he had authorized limited strikes before canceling them shortly before they were due to launch.
Asked about the decision not to launch airstrikes, Trump said: “Everyone was saying I’m a warmonger. Now they’re saying I’m a dove.”
When asked about the potential casualties of a strike against Iran, Trump said: “Anything is a lot when they shoot down an unmanned [drone]. I didn’t like it.”
Trump added that Iran was “very wise” for not targeting a manned plane and “we appreciate” the decision. Trump had previously said he called off the decision after learning about 150 civilians could be killed in any such assault, citing proportionality in the U.S. response.
The president also said he would act to impose further sanctions on Iran, following Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal struck under the Obama administration in 2015.
“Look, Iran right now is an economic mess. They’re going through hell. The sanctions have hit them hard. More sanctions are going to be put on. A lot more. It’s hard to believe you can even put on, but it’s a mess. All I want is no nuclear weapons.”
Trump gaggled with reporters at the White House ahead of a visit to Camp David, where he said he will be holding a series of meetings on Iran. He is scheduled to return to the White House on Sunday.
Bolton flew into Israel on Saturday for meetings scheduled to begin Sunday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, followed by bilateral and trilateral discussions Bolton’s Israeli and Russian counterparts to discuss regional security, according to a national security official.
Bolton warned Iran that they “would be making a big mistake if they doubted the president’s resolve” in an interview on Monday.
Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.