Is Donald Trump distancing himself from National Security Advisor John Bolton over conflict with Iran?

Backing off public confrontation with Iran, Donald Trump has told officials to tone down tough talk.

But Trump’s retreat — perhaps prompted by his 2020 re-election bid, his desire for a photo-opportunity meeting with Iranian leaders, or even his friendship with Fox TV commentator Tucker Carlson — may be challenged by Tehran’s declaration that it has shot down an American drone.

A sign of Trump’s shift came in an interview with Time magazine, published Monday, in which he said attacks on shipping — including last Thursday’s explosions damaging two tankers in the Gulf of Oman — were “very minor” incidents. Trump claimed that the Iranian regime was becoming less hostile to the US: “I’m not hearing [‘Death to America’] too much anymore. And I don’t expect to.”

Iran Daily, June 19: Trump — Attack on Tankers “Very Minor”; Tehran Becoming Less Hostile to US

“Two senior officials and three other individuals with direct knowledge” say Trump has ordered the step back from challenging rhetoric. Only last Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeated in a TV interview that Iran is responsible for last week’s attack on the tankers, and that the Trump Administration is considering a “full range of options” including military action.

But on Wednesday, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that “there is no talk of offensive action” within the Administration:

No one should be uncertain about our desire for peace or our readiness to normalize relations should we reach a comprehensive deal. We have put the possibility of a much brighter future on the table for the Iranian people, and we mean it.

Hook said the Administration is willing to negotiate with Iran but only when “the time is right.”

Pressed by legislators who said they were confused over the Administration’s tactics, Hook focused on the comprehensive sanctions imposed by the US last November and tightened recently: “First, to deprive the Iranian regime of the money it needs to support its destabilizing activities. Second, to bring Iran to the negotiating table…[for] a new and better [nuclear] deal.”

Inside Trump’s Head

Trump’s motives are still unclear.

But a clue may come from the 2016 campaign. Having supported the Iraq War of 2003, Trump rewrote the record and said he opposed the US intervention because it was a disastrous and expensive attempt to take oil supplies.

In recent weeks, as he checked the hawkish push of National Security Advisor John Bolton for military confrontation, Trump has said that the US no longer needs oil from the Middle East and Iran.

Trump has also made clear this spring that he would like a face-to-face meeting with Iran’s leaders. He said that he provided phone numbers for Tehran to contact, a comment that brought derision from the Iranian regime as the Supreme Leader rejected any negotiations with the US as “poison”.

A twist has been added by “a source familiar with the conversations” who says Fox TV polemicist Tucker Carlson has been privately advising Trump against any military action and criticized “hawkish members” of the Administration.

On his TV show, Carlson has chided National Security Advisor Bolton, saying war with Iran would “be like Christmas, Thanksgiving, his birthday wrapped into one”. On Monday, he compared US agencies’ claims of Iran responsibility for attacks on tankers with the Bush Administration’s false declarations leading to the 2003 Iraq War: “We’re still paying a price for that.”

Iran Claims It Downed US Drone

The Revolutionary Guards claimed on Thursday that they shot down a US spy drone in southern Iran.

The Guards said a Global Hawk surveillance drone was downed in Hormozgan Province soon at 4:05 a.m., as it flew from the oil waterway Strait of Hormuz towards the port city of Chabahar.

A spokesman for US Central Command initially denied the downing, “No US aircraft were operating in Iranian airspace today.

However, a US official told the Associated Press said a military drone had been shot down in “international airspace” over the Strait of Hormuz by an Iranian surface-to-air missile.

Central Command later issued a statement that a RQ-4 Global Hawk, was downed in an “unprovoked attack”.

Last week, the US military said the Revolutionary Guards fired a missile at another drone in between distress calls from the two tankers attacked on Thursday.

In December 2011, a US Reaper drone crashed in eastern Iran with the Iranian military claiming that it downed the craft through electronic jamming.