Robert O’Brien on Iran

On September 18, President Trump announced the appointment of Robert O'Brien as his new national security advisor. Since May 2018, O'Brien has served as the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. He also worked on Afghanistan judicial reform under the Obama Administration and as a representative to the United Nations for the George W. Bush administration.  At the U.N., he worked under Ambassador John Bolton, who preceded him as Trump’s national security advisor. O’Brien will be Trump’s fourth national security advisor.  The following are remarks by O'Brien on Iran. 



Since Trump's Announcement

“One of the problems that we have with both Iran and Russia is that we have so many sanctions out on those countries right now that there's very little left for us to do. But we're looking at every potential deterrent to those countries as well as others, including China and some countries not yet mentioned, that are trying to influence Americans on how to vote. This is unacceptable.

—October 25, 2020, in remarks to reporters


“It’s a privilege to serve with the President and to — and we look forward to another year and a half of peace through strength.  We’ve had tremendous foreign policy successes under President Trump’s leadership.  I expect those to continue. 

We’ve got a number of challenges, but there’s a great team in place with Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Esper, Secretary Mnuchin, and others.  And I look forward to working with them and working with the President to keep America safe and continue to rebuild our military and really get us back to a peace-through-strength posture that will keep the American people safe from the many challenges around the world today.” 

“We’re looking at those issues (Saudi attacks) now and getting briefed up.  And I think Secretary Pompeo is in Saudi Arabia now or is just coming home.  And any advice that I give the President will be something I give him confidentially.  But we’re monitoring that situation closely.” 

—September 18, 2019, in a press interview with President Trump 



As Chief Hostage Negotiator

"One of the most under reported foreign policy stories today is the fact the Americans are held hostage by terrorist networks and pariah states throughout the Middle East. The worst kidnapper of Americans is a nation state — Iran.  

Iran has pursued a deliberate policy of kidnapping and unjustly detaining innocent Americans since the very beginning of its revolutionary regime. In its infancy in 1979, the regime violated every norm of diplomacy for the past two millennia by holding 52 American diplomats from our embassy in Tehran hostage for 444 days. 

Since then, Iran, either directly or through Hizbollah or its other proxies, has kidnapped American diplomats, hikers, students, tourists, naturalized United States citizens visiting their families in Iran, businessmen and sailors. Iran sadly continues this uncivilized and unethical conduct even today. 

If Iran or others want to reintegrate into the international community, the first step is for them to renounce this barbarous practice and immediately release their American hostages. Kidnapping and bartering innocent civilians in a bazaar-like setting is unbecoming of a government such as Iran that likes to style itself as the heir to the thousands-years-old Persian civilization.  

Relations between the United States and Iran can improve but will not get better so long as innocent Americans are held hostage. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will address the United Nations in New York this week. He should open his address with an announcement that Iran will unconditionally free Bob, Xiyue, Siamak and the other Americans held captive by his country." 

—September 26, 2018, in an op-ed in The Hill 


In Previous Positions

"If you’re going to enter into any type of high level negotiation, and we’ve got two very important negotiations that are on the table right now, we’ve got the North Korea summit coming up, and the negotiation regarding the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and we’ve got the renegotiation with our European allies of the Iran nuclear deal, which was rank appeasement, nothing more than that.  

The person, if you’re the president of the United States, that you want sitting on your team to negotiate, the best lawyer in the house, the best foreign policy professional in the house, is John Bolton. He’s going to bring a level of seriousness, experience, depth of knowledge, but also hard-nosed, tough negotiation skills.  

I mean, you know, the Iranians are very good negotiators. They took us to the cleaners with the Iran deal. The North Koreans have been doing this for many years, and have taken a number of presidents to the cleaners. No one is going to take John Bolton to the cleaners in a negotiation. If you’re President Trump, you know, having Mike Pompeo, the former CIA director on one hand, on one side, and having you know, Ambassador John Bolton, the best lawyer foreign policy hand in America in either party on the other side, that puts you in a very powerful position in those negotiations.” 

—March 28, 2018, in an interview with High Hewitt 


The next President should "tear it (2015 nuclear deal) up on day one." 

—October 25, 2016, in an interview with Los Angeles World Affairs Council


“If you start in the Middle East, when the Green Revolution took place in Iran, we did not stand with the Iranians in the streets, the young people. We stood with the mullahs. It took several days for President Obama and Secretary Clinton to even acknowledge that folks in Iran did not necessarily want to be ruled by these hardline mullahs. 

And then she’s tied herself–and now takes credit for–the Iran nuclear deal, which is the worst appeasement since we allowed Hitler to rise. She’s totally tied in there. The Iranians are building ballistic missiles and trying to build intercontinental ballistic missiles, together with their nuclear program. She’s got that on her hands.” 

—September 19, 2016, in an interview with Breitbart News Daily 


"In his press conference on Wednesday, President Obama said that his deal with Iran is the best outcome that could be achieved.  History proves otherwise.  Unlike past successful non-proliferation efforts with respect to states seeking nuclear weapons, this deal moves Iran further down the path toward obtaining a nuclear weapon. Indeed, the deal actually recognizes Iran’s "right" to enrich uranium and Iran will keep at least five thousand nuclear centrifuges spinning into the future. Six previous United Nations Security Council Resolutions stated the opposite. Iran flouted those resolutions and is now being rewarded for its clandestine and illegal nuclear enrichment activity. 

Iran is a sworn enemy of the United States. It is a revolutionary regime that is committed to changing the contours of the entire Middle East and destroying America’s key regional ally, Israel. Iran has held American diplomats hostage, currently holds Americans, including journalists, hostage and has killed hundreds of American servicemen and women in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, directly or through proxies, since taking power. There is simply no evidence to support the idea that we can trust revolutionary Iran to give up its long-term goal of developing a nuclear weapon and delivery systems. 

In addition to legitimizing Iran’s now supposedly "peaceful" atomic program, the deal will likely lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It is hard to imagine that Sunni states such as Egypt, Turkey and, especially, Saudi Arabia, will not immediately begin the process of procuring nuclear arms on their own or from a sympathetic third country like Pakistan to counter Iran, which will in essence be an internationally recognized nuclear threshold state. 

Further, Iran will receive tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief. In addition to expanding its own military forces, there is no doubt that much of that money will be funneled to Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Assad regime in Syria, Shia militias in Iraq and Houthis rebels in Yemen, not to mention Hamas in Gaza, which Iran has supported in the past. All of these groups are at war with or threaten America's friends and allies in the region. The economics of this deal will surely increase the volatility of an already dangerous region."

—July 16, 2015, excerpts from an op-ed in The National Interest