WASHINGTON — President Trump announced on Tuesday that he had fired John R. Bolton, his third national security adviser, amid fundamental disagreements over how to handle major foreign policy challenges like Iran, North Korea and most recently Afghanistan.
“I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House,” the president wrote on Twitter. “I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service.”
Mr. Bolton disputed the president’s version of how the end came in his own tweet shortly afterward. “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow,’” Mr. Bolton wrote, without elaborating.
Responding to a question from The New York Times via text, Mr. Bolton said his resignation was his own initiative, not the president’s. “Offered last night without his asking,” he wrote. “Slept on it and gave it to him this morning.”
Mr. Trump said he would appoint a replacement “next week,” setting off a process that should offer clues to where the president wants to take his foreign policy before next year’s election. In the meantime, a White House spokesman said Charles M. Kupperman, the deputy national security adviser, would serve in an acting capacity.
The national security adviser’s dismissal came so abruptly that it was announced barely an hour after the White House scheduled a briefing on terrorism for 1:30 p.m. at which Mr. Bolton was supposed to appear alongside Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. But Mr. Bolton left the White House, and the briefing proceeded without him.
Mr. Pompeo, who has feuded with Mr. Bolton for months, shed no tears about the president’s decision. “He should have people he trusts and values,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters. And he made no effort to hide his rivalry with Mr. Bolton. “There were definitely places that Ambassador Bolton and I had different views about how we should proceed,” he said.
Mr. Bolton’s departure comes as Mr. Trump is pursuing diplomatic openings with some of the United States’ most intractable enemies, efforts that have troubled hard-liners in the administration, like Mr. Bolton, who view North Korea and Iran as profoundly untrustworthy.
[Read more about the 5 policy clashes between President Trump and John Bolton.]
He spent much of the past week waging a last-minute battle to prevent Mr. Trump from signing off on a peace agreement with the Taliban militant organization, which he viewed as anathema — a deal that the president was preparing to finalize by inviting the Taliban leaders to Camp David.
Mr. Bolton urged Mr. Trump to reject the agreement, arguing that the president could still withdraw troops from Afghanistan to fulfill his campaign promise without getting in bed with an organization responsible for killing thousands of Americans over the past 18 years.
Mr. Trump ultimately did scrap plans for the Camp David meeting and said on Monday that talks with the Taliban were now “dead.” But the president’s aides were furious over news reports saying that Mr. Bolton opposed the meeting because they saw the leaks as working against the president’s interests.
Vice President Mike Pence’s camp likewise grew angry at news reports stating that he also opposed the Camp David invitation, interpreting them as an effort by Mr. Bolton’s allies to argue that he was not alone in his position. Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence publicly denied the reports, and some White House officials said they believed it was the last straw for the president.
Mr. Bolton saw his job as stopping Mr. Trump from making unwise agreements with America’s enemies. “While John Bolton was national security adviser for the last 17 months, there have been no bad deals,” a person close to Mr. Bolton said minutes after the president’s announcement on Tuesday, reflecting the ousted adviser’s view.
To Mr. Bolton’s aggravation, the president has continued to court Kim Jong-un, the repressive leader of North Korea, despite Mr. Kim’s refusal to surrender his nuclear program and despite repeated short-range missile tests by the North that have rattled its neighbors.
In recent days, Mr. Trump has also expressed a willingness to meet with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran under the right circumstances, and even to extend short-term financing to Tehran. Mr. Pompeo confirmed on Tuesday that it was possible such a meeting could take place this month on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York.
The rift between the president and his national security adviser owed as much to personality as to policy. Mr. Trump never warmed to him, a dynamic that is often fatal in this White House. Mr. Bolton’s critics inside the administration said he irritated the president by undermining policies even after they were decided.
At its core, the schism reflected a deep-seated philosophical difference that has characterized the Trump presidency. While given to bellicose language, Mr. Trump came to office deeply skeptical of overseas military adventures and promising negotiations to resolve volatile conflicts. Mr. Bolton, however, has been one of Washington’s most outspoken hawks and unapologetic advocates of American power to defend the country’s interests.
To his admirers, Mr. Bolton was supposed to be a check on what they feared would be naïve diplomacy, a cleareyed realist who would keep a president without prior experience in foreign affairs from giving away the store to wily adversaries. But Mr. Trump has long complained privately that Mr. Bolton was too willing to get the United States into another war.
The tension between the men was aggravated in recent months by the president’s decisions to call off a planned airstrike on Iran in retaliation for the downing of an American surveillance drone and to meet with Mr. Kim at the Demilitarized Zone and cross over into North Korea.
Mr. Bolton favored the strike on Iran and publicly criticized recent North Korean missile tests that Mr. Trump brushed off. After the president arranged the DMZ meeting with Mr. Kim via a last-minute tweet, Mr. Bolton did not accompany him and instead proceeded on a previously scheduled trip to Mongolia.
Mr. Bolton’s departure caught White House aides and lawmakers off-guard. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah and a former party nominee for president, called the news “an extraordinary loss for our nation and the White House.” Mr. Romney said he was “very, very unhappy.”
“John Bolton is a brilliant man with decades of experience in foreign policy,” he said. “His point of view was not always the same as everybody else in the room. That’s why you wanted him there. The fact that he was a contrarian from time to time was an asset, not a liability.”
But Republicans like Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky who have tried to push Mr. Trump away from foreign intervention were openly gleeful.
“The threat of war worldwide goes down exponentially with John Bolton out of the White House,” Mr. Paul told reporters. “I think his advocacy for regime change around the world is a naïve worldview, and I think that the world will be a much better place with new advisers to the president.”
Among others pleased to be rid of Mr. Bolton were Iran’s leaders, who viewed him as an enemy of peace. Hesameddin Ashena, Mr. Rouhani’s top political adviser, tweeted that Mr. Bolton getting sidelined was “a definitive sign that Washington’s maximum pressure on Iran has failed” and that “Iran’s blockade will end.”
A former under secretary of state and ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, Mr. Bolton, 70, was tapped as national security adviser in March 2018 after impressing Mr. Trump with his outspoken performances on Fox News.
Mr. Bolton followed two military officers who held the post before him: Michael T. Flynn, a retired lieutenant general who stepped down after 24 days and later pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I.; and his successor, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who never forged a strong connection with the president and was forced out.
Long before Mr. Trump popularized his “America First” slogan, Mr. Bolton termed himself an “Americanist” who prioritized a cold-eyed view of national interests and sovereignty over what they both saw as a fuzzy-headed fixation on democracy promotion and human rights. They shared a deep skepticism of globalism and multilateralism, a commonality that empowered Mr. Bolton to use his time in the White House to orchestrate the withdrawal of the United States from arms control treaties and other international agreements.
With Mr. Trump’s backing, Mr. Bolton likewise helped enact policies meant to pressure the Communist government in Cuba, reversing some but not all of the measures taken by President Barack Obama in a diplomatic opening to the island. Among other things, the Trump administration imposed limits on travel and remittances to Cuba and opened the door to lawsuits by Americans whose property was seized in the revolution in 1959.
But if Mr. Trump’s original national security team was seen as restraining a mercurial new commander in chief, the president found himself sometimes restraining Mr. Bolton. Behind the scenes, he joked about Mr. Bolton’s penchant for confrontation. “If it was up to John, we’d be in four wars now,” one senior official recalled the president saying.
Mr. Trump also grew disenchanted with Mr. Bolton over the failed effort to push out President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela. Rather than the easy victory he was led to anticipate, Mr. Trump has found himself bogged down in a conflict over which he has less influence than he had assumed. The political opposition backed by the White House could not turn Venezuela’s military against Mr. Maduro and has been stuck in a stalemate for months.
The divergence between Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolton was on display in May during the president’s first trip this year to Japan. After Mr. Bolton told reporters then that “there is no doubt” that North Korean short-range missile launches violated United Nations resolutions, Mr. Trump dismissed the concern, still eager to preserve his strained relationship with Mr. Kim.
“My people think it could have been a violation, as you know,” the president told reporters. “I view it differently.”
Mr. Trump likewise repudiated the idea of working to overthrow the government of Iran, a goal Mr. Bolton long advanced as a private citizen. “We’re not looking for regime change,” Mr. Trump said. “I just want to make that clear.”