This person said Trump raised the idea of lifting sanctions during a discussion with Bolton in the Oval Office on Monday afternoon. Bolton made clear to the president that he strongly disagreed with the idea, this person said, according to NBC News.
Bolton was out as national security adviser the following morning, though he and Trump disagree over who made that decision. The US president has said he fired him, while Bolton has said he resigned.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As national security adviser, Bolton was a leading advocate of the Trump administration’s so-called “maximum pressure campaign,” designed to squeeze Iran’s economy until its leadership was forced to curtail its role in the region and concede to US demands to dismantle its peaceful nuclear program.
Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year. Iran waited for a year to see if the remaining parties would fulfil their undertakings and when they failed to do so, Tehran started taking steps in scaling back its commitments. Trump recently has said he would meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, perhaps later this month on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York, without preconditions.
Iran has said it won’t negotiate with the US until sanctions are lifted.
This was not the first time Trump has brought up the idea of easing sanctions to bring Iran to the negotiating table, according to a US official familiar with the Iran policy discussions.
The president has “thrown out the idea before” because he believes if he gets Iranian officials to talk, he can make a deal. But the discussion on Monday was more than just a suggestion, the official said, as the president seemed to really be considering the idea ahead of a hoped-for meeting with the Iranians at the United Nations later this month.
French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed providing Iran with $15 billion in non-US funds to jump-start talks. Trump has suggested he might sign off on such a proposal, which would require the US to advise financial institutions that they would not face penalties if they facilitate such transactions.
But the person close to Bolton said the president went further during a 2 p.m. meeting on Monday in suggesting he would lift US sanctions. The possibility of Iran sanctions relief was in part what prompted Bolton to submit a resignation letter to the president the following morning, this person said.
Trump indicated on Wednesday that he might be open to sanctions relief.
“We’ll see what happens,” he told reporters when asked about possibly easing sanctions on Iran.