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Trump announces latest national security advisor, says he'll 'do a great job'

Robert O’Brien, 53, has until now served as Trump’s envoy for situations involving US hostages abroad.

Trump with Robert O'Brien.
Trump with Robert O'Brien.
Image: Evan Vucci/PA Images

US PRESIDENT DONALD Trump on Wednesday named his new national security advisor, with hostage negotiator Robert O’Brien becoming the fourth person to take the role during the current administration.

Trump made the announcement by Twitter and later appeared with O’Brien in front of reporters while traveling in California, where he said his new foreign policy aide was “highly respected”.

Last week, Trump abruptly fired John Bolton, whose instincts for an aggressive, interventionist foreign policy were at odds with the president’s more isolationist stance.

O’Brien, 53, has until now served as Trump’s envoy for situations involving US hostages abroad.

Tweet by @Donald J. Trump Source: Donald J. Trump/Twitter

He comes into the new job with backing from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior Republicans in Congress.

Bolton, by contrast, was a highly controversial figure in Washington.

Bolton “wasn’t getting along with people in the administration who I consider very important” and “wasn’t in line with what we were doing,” Trump said.

O’Brien does not appear to have that problem, for now.

“I think we have a very good chemistry together,” Trump said.

He arrives just as Trump is coming under pressure from some in Washington to go to war with Iran in retaliation for an attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia last weekend that has been blamed on Tehran.

Moments before naming O’Brien as his new advisor, Trump announced he was ordering “substantially” increased sanctions against Iran, which is already buckling under US economic pressure.

Hard edge

A longtime lawyer and foreign policy advisor to Republicans, O’Brien has become one of Trump’s favorites for his work on behalf of Americans held prisoner in far-flung places including North Korea and Turkey.

Trump said his work had been “unparalleled” and “tremendous”.

While such cases are termed “hostages” by Trump, this is not always the case. In the most unusual episode, O’Brien was dispatched to US ally Sweden to attend the trial of US rapper ASAP Rocky, who was accused of assault.

In his 2016 book “While America Slept,” O’Brien criticised what he called then outgoing president Barack Obama’s attempt to present a more collaborative, dovish United States.

This meant “autocrats, tyrants, and terrorists were emboldened,” he argued.

“In the face of rising challenges around the world, it is time to return to a national security policy based on ‘peace through strength,’” he wrote.

“A strong America will be a nation that our allies will trust and our adversaries will not dare test.”

O’Brien will find a stacked in-tray waiting for him at the White House, with Iran at the top of the pile.

While there are loud voices in Washington calling for the bombing of Iran following the Saudi oil facility strikes, Trump’s instinct so far has been to resist expanding US foreign military entanglements.

Another pressing item for Trump is Afghanistan, where he has repeatedly said he wants to wind down the two-decade US military presence.

Peace talks with the Taliban and a surprise planned meeting between the insurgents and Trump himself, something apparently opposed by Bolton, were scrapped earlier this month.

Other foreign policy headaches include the huge trade war with China and fears of a new arms race with Russia.

With reporting from Seán Murray

- © AFP 2019

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