- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2019

President Trump named his chief hostage negotiator as his national security adviser Wednesday, filling the role for a fourth time as he plots a stern response to Iran’s suspected role in attacking Saudi oil fields last weekend.

Robert C. O’Brien will replace John R. Bolton, who was ousted last week amid clashes with key White House aides and Mr. Trump on topics such as Iran, North Korea and Venezuela.

As the U.S. special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, Mr. O’Brien endeared himself to Mr. Trump by working to secure the release of pastor Andrew Brunson from Turkey and Americans held in Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen. He also spoke to Sweden about rapper A$AP Rocky’s legal troubles after an incident in Stockholm.

“He did a tremendous job on hostage negotiations. Really tremendous, like unparalleled. We’ve had tremendous success in that regard,” Mr. Trump told White House reporters traveling with him in California. “I think we have a very good chemistry together, and I think we’re going to have a great relationship. He is a very talented man.”

Mr. O’Brien, who accompanied Mr. Trump, called it a privilege to serve with the president.



“We’ve got a number of challenges,” he said, “but there’s a great team in place.”

The president is promoting Mr. O’Brien as he weighs a response to Iran’s suspected role in drone attacks Saturday that temporarily shut down half of the Saudi oil production.

“We’ll see what happens. We have many options that we’re considering. There are many options,” Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump heads to New York for the U.N. General Assembly session next week, meaning Mr. O’Brien could have an immediate impact. The national security adviser does not have to be confirmed by the Senate.

“Robert’s a very experienced foreign policy figure with deep knowledge of United Nations, international organizations,” said Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation. He worked alongside Mr. O’Brien on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid.

“He’s a safe pair of hands,” Mr. Gardiner said. “He’s somebody who I think has very good instincts, a very good understanding of the challenges facing the United States as leader of the free world.”

Mr. O’Brien worked under President George W. Bush as a representative to the U.N., continuing in Mr. Bolton’s footsteps as a Trump official with connections to the last Republican administration.

Mr. Trump has grown tired of Bush veterans. Besides Mr. Bolton, his aides included Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who sparred with Mr. Trump over immigration before her ouster.

Mr. Bolton fought with top administration officials, but Mr. O’Brien is viewed as a team player. Mr. Trump, who bills himself as a deal-maker, was impressed by his track record as a negotiator.

Mr. O’Brien has been “incredibly effective as the ambassador for these hostage negotiations,” said Kenneth R. Weinstein, president of the Hudson Institute. “He’s someone who has gone in, under the radar, and handles sensitive negotiations in a low-key manner.”

Mr. Trump hailed Mr. O’Brien from the Oval Office in March during a welcome-home ceremony for Danny Burch, an oil worker held in Yemen for 18 months.

In turn, Mr. O’Brien praised Mr. Trump for working to bring home Americans through “force of will,” without concessions or payments.

Mr. O’Brien wrote a book in 2016, “While America Slept,” that was critical of President Obama’s 2015 nuclear pact with Iran and compared it to the appeasement of Adolf Hitler at Munich in 1938.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who wants a muscular approach to Iran, said Mr. O’Brien is a good choice who will keep Mr. Trump on the right path.

“He understands the world for the dangerous place it is. He’s got great negotiating skills as our hostage negotiator,” Mr. Graham said. “I think he will be a very sound policy adviser to the president of the United States.”

Mr. O’Brien will be the president’s fourth national security adviser in less than three years.

His first, Michael Flynn, was an Army lieutenant general and key campaign surrogate for Mr. Trump.

He was ousted after just weeks on the job for misleading Vice President Mike Pence over contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. He pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about those contacts as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

His replacement, H.R. McMaster, lasted for a while, but Mr. Trump tired of him by early 2018 and tapped Mr. Bolton, though his relationship with Mr. Bolton soured beyond repair this year.

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