McMaster out, Bolton in as Trump's national security adviser

2018-03-23 05:56
Army Lt Gen HR McMaster. (Susan Walsh, AP, file)

Army Lt Gen HR McMaster. (Susan Walsh, AP, file)

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Washington - Charging ahead with the dramatic remaking of his White House, US President Donald Trump said on Thursday he would replace national security adviser HR McMaster with the former UN Ambassador John Bolton, a foreign policy hawk entering a White House facing key decisions on Iran and North Korea.

After weeks of speculation about McMaster's future, Trump and the respected three-star general put a positive face on the departure, making no reference to the growing public friction between them.

Trump tweeted on Thursday that McMaster had done "an outstanding job & will always remain my friend." He said Bolton will take over April 9 as his third national security adviser in just over a year.

READ: Trump to oust national security advisor HR McMaster: Report

The national security shakeup comes as the president is increasingly shedding advisers who once eased the Republican establishment's concerns about the foreign policy and political novice in the White House.

McMaster is the sixth close adviser or aide to announce a departure in a turbulent six weeks, joining ally Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was unceremoniously fired last week.

Hard-line influence

The White House has said the president is seeking to put new foreign policy leaders in place ahead of not-yet-scheduled meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un.

Bolton is likely to add a hard-line influence to those talks, as well as deliberations over whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Bolton called the appointment "an honour" in a late Thursday statement, saying he looks "forward to working with President Trump and his leadership team" to "make our country safer at home and stronger abroad".

The White House said on Thursday that McMaster's exit had been under discussion for some time and stressed it was not due to any one incident, including this week's stunning leak about Trump's recent phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

McMaster had briefed Trump before the Putin call - and his team drafted all-caps instructions telling Trump not to congratulate the Russian leader on his re-election victory. Trump did it anyway.

An internal investigation into the leak is underway, said a White House official who - like others interviewed about the announcement and the White House shakeup - demanded anonymity to discuss internal matters.

In a statement released by the White House, McMaster said he would be requesting retirement from the US Army effective this year, adding that afterward he "will leave public service".

McMaster had told confidants he would leave the post if at any point he lost credibility on the international stage, according to three White House officials. The feverish speculation about an impending exit sped up the decision for him to depart, the officials said, in part because McMaster believed foreign partners were beginning to doubt his influence.

Chief of Staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had been pushing Trump to get rid of McMaster and had been escalating their campaign in recent weeks.

Divisive foreign policy expert

It had appeared McMaster's departure was imminent last week - but White House officials insisted the speculation was false.

Bolton, probably the most divisive foreign policy expert ever to serve as UN ambassador, has been a force in Republican foreign policy circles for decades.

He has served in the Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush and George W Bush, and served as a Bush lawyer during the 2000 Florida recount.

A strong supporter of the Iraq war and an advocate for aggressive use of American power, Bolton was unable to win Senate confirmation after his nomination to the UN post alienated many Democrats and even some Republicans.

He resigned after serving 17 months as a Bush "recess appointment", which allowed him to hold the job on a temporary basis without Senate confirmation.

The role of national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation.

Bolton met with Trump and Kelly in early March to discuss North Korea and Iran. He was spotted entering the West Wing earlier on Thursday.

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