In the midst of rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, President Trump welcomed Ueli Maurer, the rotating President of the Swiss Confederation, to the Oval Office on Thursday, May 16th at 11:50 AM EST.
According to the White House: “At the meeting, the two leaders discussed improving economic relations, workforce development, and a range of international issues, including the crises in the Middle East and in Venezuela. President Trump expressed his gratitude for Switzerland’s role in facilitating international mediation and diplomatic relations on behalf of the United States.”
Switzerland acts as a protecting power for the U.S. in Iran where it is tasked with representing U.S. interests in lieu of formal American diplomatic relations with the Iranian government. Recently, Switzerland has also undertaken this same protecting power role for the U.S. in Venezuela, after President Maduro severed diplomatic ties with the U.S. following President Trump’s formal recognition of opposition leader Juan Guido as Venezuela’s interim president.
At the White House this morning, President Trump was asked by a reporter whether the U.S. will be going to war with Iran. President Trump responded, “I hope not.”
Prior to today’s meeting, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that the administration hoped the President of the Swiss Confederation would relay to the Iranians that, “We’d like to see some behavioral change come from them and that if they take action they’re not going to like what he does in response. They’re not going to be happy.” When asked if the President is frustrated with National Security Advisor John Bolton’s aggressive behavior with regard to Iran, Sanders reiterated: “…There isn’t division in the White House and, again, there’s only one agenda here and it’s the President’s.”
Mr. Bolton, known for his role in promoting the U.S. invasion of Iraq, has long spoken about his hawkish desire to go to war with Iran. The New York Times recently reported that Bolton called for American military plans in the Middle East to be revised; these proposed revisions, as presented by Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, included a provision that would send 120,000 troops to the Middle East in the event of that Iran attacks the U.S. or speeds up its nuclear development program, a clear provocation. However, on Tuesday, in response to a reporter asking whether President Trump was planning on sending troops to the region, President Trump responded: “I think it’s fake news. Okay? Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully, we’re not going to have to plan for that.”
Despite the appearance of internal division in the administration on how to deal with Iran, President Trump maintained on Twitter that: “The Fake News Washington Post, and even more Fake News New York Times, are writing stories that there is infighting with respect to my strong policy in the Middle East. There is no infighting whatsoever…Different opinions are expressed and I make a decisive and final decision – it is a very simple process…I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.”
According to a senior administration official quoted in The Washington Post, President Trump, unlike Mr. Bolton, has expressed his preference for diplomacy with Iran and has indicated that he hopes to negotiate with the Iranian government. The New York Times also recently reported that President Trump told Mr. Shanahan that he does not want to go to war with Iran.