By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump shook up his foreign policy team again on Thursday, replacing H.R. McMaster as national security adviser with John Bolton, a hawk who has advocated using military force against North Korea and Iran.
The move, announced in a tweet, came little more than a week after the firing by Trump of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo was nominated to replace him.
The shake-up means Trump is bringing in top advisers more likely to agree with his views, with a prospective summit meeting approaching between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. That is supposed to happen by the end of May.
McMaster, hired early in Trump’s presidency to replace scandal-tarred Michael Flynn as national security adviser, had been widely expected to leave soon.
Trump found McMaster’s style grating and had been looking for a replacement, advisers said.
The White House said Trump and McMaster had “mutually agreed” that he would leave.
“I am very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will always remain my friend,” Trump’s tweet said.
The announcement came a day after Trump was angered by a leak of information from his presidential briefing papers that said he was advised specifically not to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his disputed re-election.
“The two have been discussing this for some time. The timeline was expedited as they both felt it was important to have the new team in place, instead of constant speculation. This was not related to any one moment or incident, rather it was the result of ongoing conversations between the two,” a senior White House official said.
McMaster, 55, is to stay on until mid-April. He said in a statement he was also requesting retirement from the U.S. Army, in which he holds the rank of three-star general.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had been hoping to entice McMaster into another military assignment in order to qualify as a four-star general.
‘FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS’
The hiring of Bolton, 69, which does not require U.S. Senate confirmation, came despite concerns by some foreign policy analysts that the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations might use his position to pursue his own global views, rather than carry out Trump’s.
“Bolton has long been an advocate for pre-emptive military action against North Korea, and his appointment as National Security Adviser is a strong signal that President Trump remains open to these options,” said Abraham Denmark, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia under former President Barack Obama.
“We should also expect an even more confrontational approach to China – a trade war may just be the beginning of a broader geopolitical competition,” he said.
The announcement was made shortly after Bolton and Trump met in the Oval Office.
As the State Department’s top arms control official under President George W. Bush, Bolton was a leading advocate of the 2003 invasion of Iraq – which was later found to have been based on bogus and exaggerated intelligence about President Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorism.
In recent years, as a conservative media commentator, Bolton has advocated hardline positions on stopping Pyongyang from getting nuclear weapons that could threaten the United States. He has also advocated getting rid of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a pact Trump has also heavily criticized.
“Bolton has long supported regime change in North Korea and closer ties with Taiwan. Fasten your seat belts,” said Bonnie Glaser, Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by by Warren Strobel, Yara Bayoumy and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)