John Bolton, former US President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, said on Wednesday that while a return to the Iran nuclear deal appears to be a priority for the Biden administration, he doubts the sincerity of Tehran’s promises not to pursue the development of nuclear weapons.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News he said he supports the inclusion of Arab Gulf states in any negotiations relating to Iran’s nuclear program, describing it as a “positive idea.”
He also stressed that while he is not calling for regime change in Tehran that involves foreign military intervention, he believes that an internal “popular opposition” will eventually topple the regime.
During a discussion that covered a range of issues that affect the Middle East, Bolton said he is not opposed in principle to the idea of US President Joe Biden re-engaging with Iran. He pointed out that Biden, during his time as vice president under Barack Obama, played an important role in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, so it is not surprising that a return to it is on the agenda. However he warned that Tehran remains determined to develop nuclear capability.
“I don’t think the Iranian regime has ever made a strategic decision to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons,” he said.
Bolton said that Arab Gulf states have the right to be included when the international community enters into fresh negotiations with Iran, given their proximity to the country and the regime’s aggressive activities in the region.
Distancing himself from previous comments in which he suggested that international military intervention should be on the table, Bolton said he now believes that change in Iran will most likely come from within in the form of an internal civilian and military uprising.
He said that the popularity of the regime among Iranians is at its lowest point because of its mismanagement of the economy the crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
“I think the regime in Iran is at its most unpopular point since the 1979 revolution,” he said. “I think the most likely outcome is for the officers and the regular military — and even the Revolutionary Guards, whose families and friends are subjected to the ongoing economic crisis — to split. I think this is how the regime is coming down. I don’t envision any outside intervention.”
In terms of wider regional issues, Bolton praised Arab Gulf nations for resolving their long-running diplomatic dispute with Qatar. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, along with Egypt, agreed in January to restore relations with Doha. They severed ties in June 2017 over differences in regional policies. He said that a show of unity among Arab Gulf nations is important for their efforts to address the perceived Iranian threat to their interests.
However Turkey, under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, came in for criticism from Bolton for its military intervention in northern Syria. He also condemned Ankara’s decision to purchase the S-400 missile system from Russia, which an adversary to NATO — an organization of which Turkey is a member.
Moving on to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bolton said that a two-state solution that includes an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories of the West Bank, Gaza and Arab East Jerusalem is no longer realistic.
The world should be paying more attention to the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people, he said. These are different from those of the Palestinian leadership, he added, which continues to pursue an “antiquated strategy” that might have been appropriate decades ago but is no longer relevant given the ways in which the world, and the Arab world in particular, has changed.
These changes should encourage the Palestinians to develop “new thinking” and move on from a two-state solution that he described as “broken.”
As an alternative, Bolton said he believes in a “three-state solution” that would return the Gaza Strip to Egyptian sovereignty, as was the case before it was occupied by Israel in 1967. He suggested that Jordan and Israel should share sovereignty of the West Bank, which he said would lead to a “viable economic existence” for Palestinians.