Less than 24 hours after Donald Trump sacked his hawkish top aide John Bolton, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did little to contain his enthusiasm.
For months, Zarif has been blaming the so-called “B Team” – Israel’s President Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Trump’s now-former US national security adviser Bolton – for the deterioration of US-Iranian relations.
Now the Washington-based member of the team is out of the picture – and Zarif said on Wednesday that “the world … was breathing a sigh of relief over [the] ouster of #B_Team’s henchman in the White House”.
Notably, Bolton’s departure, analysts say, increases the potential for a diplomatic breakthrough between Iran and the Trump administration, but sanctions relief remains a requirement for Iranian officials to enter into negotiations with Washington.
Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think-tank, described Bolton as an “impediment to diplomacy”, but said his sacking would not be enough to ease tensions between Iran and the United States.
Shortly after Bolton joined the Trump administration in April 2018, Washington pulled out of a multinational deal with Iran that saw Tehran scale back its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions against its economy.
Since then, the US administration has imposed biting sanctions on Iranian industries and individuals – including Zarif and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – as a part of Washington’s “maximum pressure campaign” against the country.
However, Tehran initially remained committed to the deal in an effort to salvage economic partnerships with European countries. But with the increasing pressure of sanctions, which would also penalize Iran’s trade partners if they did not abide by the US measures, Iran began to breach parts of its commitment to limit its nuclear activities.
So far, the Trump administration has promoted its policies on Iran as a success, citing growing economic hardships faced by the Iranian government.
Moreover, critics say the pressure campaign dangerously brought the two countries to the verge of a military confrontation this summer.
Furthermore, on 20 June, Trump authorized – then called off – US strikes against Iran after Iranian forces shot down a US drone that Tehran said was flying over Iranian territory. According to the reports, at the time that Bolton favored the attacks.
Joe Macaron, a fellow at the Arab Center Washington DC, said both sides should seize the opportunity created by Bolton’s firing.
“The departure of John Bolton definitely sends a strong signal to the Iranian regime that Trump is serious about engagement,” Macaron told MEE in an email.
He added that Iran’s own hawks, including Khamenei, should ease pressure on Rouhani to “meet Trump halfway”.
In brief, the momentum of John Bolton’s departure might make a strong argument for a meeting to happen in New York this month, but US-Iranian tensions are not all about Bolton; there are issues that need to be discussed and compromises to be made.