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If Trump wants to make amends with Iran, he'll need to fire Pompeo

If there's any dialogue to be had with Iran, Bolton's book proves that Pompeo will stop it. And if Trump really wants to avoid wars like he says he does, he needs to consider whether he's being played

Negar Mortazavi
Washington DC
Monday 29 June 2020 17:55 BST
Bolton's book talks about how he and Pompeo conspired to prevent diplomacy between Trump and Iran
Bolton's book talks about how he and Pompeo conspired to prevent diplomacy between Trump and Iran (Mandel Ngana/AFP via Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s top diplomat does not really want diplomacy with Iran. Case in point: When the Obama administration was negotiating the nuclear deal with Iran, Michael Pompeo wanted the US and its allies to bomb the country instead. “In an unclassified setting, it is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces,” then Congressman Pompeo said in December 2014.

John Bolton’s new book confirmed what we already knew: Pompeo doesn’t want to negotiate with Tehran, and he wouldn’t let Trump do it either. Bolton reveals that when Trump wanted to meet with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, he and Pompeo sabotaged that meeting, together with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mike Pompeo is an extreme ideologue with close ties to evangelical Christians, right-wing Zionists, western Islamophobes and US arm manufacturers. These relationships inform his worldview. Among this constellation of political forces, Iran is viewed in apocalyptic terms,” Nader Hashemi, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at University of Denver, recently told me. All evidence we’ve learnt so far from Bolton’s tell-all book, The Room Where it Happened, suggests that to be true.

Last summer in southern France, world leaders gathered for the G7 summit in the town of Biarritz. French President Emmanuel Macron tried very hard to open diplomatic channels between Trump and Tehran during that summit, and he very nearly succeeded. Now Bolton has told us the backstory of how he and Pompeo worked very hard to stop it, a lot of Trump’s actions have become explicable.

“Bolton reveals what any honest observer already has noted: The maximum pressure strategy was never intended by Bolton and Pompeo to be a negotiation strategy. When there was a chance of a diplomatic breakthrough, both Bolton and Pompeo conspired to sabotage it and planned to resign in protest if it were to happen,” said Trita Parsi, Executive Vice President of the Quincy Institute in Washington.

Pompeo and Bolton are warmongers and the question Trump must ask himself is why he has surrounded himself with warmongers if he truly desires talks with Iran, Parsi added.

Bolton is gone now. But Pompeo is still Secretary of State and he still wants war and regime change, not diplomacy and negotiation. Pompeo pushed Trump to approve the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, which brought the two countries to the brink of war. And if Trump wants to negotiate with Iran, he needs a top diplomat who is onboard.

“Pompeo is a major obstacle. He doesn’t want talks, doesn’t want a new agreement, and was a main force behind the assassination of Soleimani, but he’s not the only obstacle to talks — just a big one,” said Pouya Alimagham, a historian of the modern Middle East at MIT.

Unlike Bolton and Pompeo, who have been fixated on starting a war with Iran for years, Trump has a different view. He seems to want to make a new deal with the country to prove his image as a world-class negotiator and boost his foreign policy record as a global leader. But none of that could happen if the person in charge of his diplomatic apparatus is opposed to it.

Diplomacy, after all, is the art of letting someone else have your way. And Pompeo seems to have mastered that art with Trump. He may not have been able to start a war with Iran yet, but he sure has stopped diplomacy between the two sides. If Trump really wants to talk to Tehran, he needs to fire Mike Pompeo first.

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