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Trump names State Department official O’Brien as new security adviser

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he will name Robert O’Brien, a State Department official in charge of hostage issues, as new national security adviser to succeed John Bolton.


The appointment of Trump’s fourth national security adviser comes amid rising tension with Iran over recent attacks on Saudi Arabia’s major oil facilities.


“I have worked long & hard with Robert. He will do a great job!” Trump tweeted, a week after the dismissal of Bolton, known as a hardliner on North Korea and Iran, over what the president called many disagreements on policy issues.


Bolton’s departure has fueled speculation that his rival, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is establishing himself as Trump’s most influential foreign policy adviser.


According to the State Department website, O’Brien, as the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs, has led the U.S. government’s diplomatic efforts on overseas hostage-related matters.


He previously worked with Bolton during the George W. Bush administration as a representative to the U.N. General Assembly in 2005. Bolton was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006.


O’Brien is known for his “friendly demeanor,” in contrast to his predecessor Bolton, who rankled officials at the Pentagon and the State Department with his sharp-elbowed management style, The Washington Post said.


Among the challenges the new national security adviser will face is the handling of Saturday’s attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, an ally of the United States.


Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen immediately claimed responsibility for the strikes, with a Houthi spokesman saying 10 drones were used. But the United States and Saudi Arabia have suggested Iran’s involvement, an allegation which Iran denies.


Trump announced on Twitter on Wednesday that he instructed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to “substantially increase sanctions” on Iran.


Asked if he is looking at a military strike against Iran, the president told reporters later in the day in Los Angeles, “We’ll see what happens.”


The president said there are many options to consider against Iran — the “ultimate” option, meaning war, which he said he is not pursuing, as well as “options that are a lot less than that.”


The Trump administration has already been imposing sanctions on the Middle Eastern country since leaving a 2015 global nuclear deal last year, under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.


Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Defense Ministry on Wednesday showed the debris of drones and cruise missiles which it says prove that the attacks were conducted by Iran. The weapons came from the north, where Iran is located, it said.

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