HR McMaster has resigned as Donald Trump’s national security adviser and will be replaced by John Bolton, the hawkish former US ambassador to the United Nations, the president announced on Thursday night.
Bolton has advocated using military force against Iran and North Korea and has taken a hard line against Russia.
Trump announced the switch in a tweet, writing that he was “thankful for the service of General HR McMaster who has done an outstanding job & will remain my friend”.
The changing of the guard will take place on 9 April, Trump said.
An official said that there were no incidents that led to McMaster’s exit, and that it was instead the result of a continuing conversation between McMaster and the president.
In a statement, McMaster, 55, said he would be retiring from the US army at the same time as leaving the White House. He thanked Trump and the members of the National Security Council, who he said had “worked together to provide the president with the best options to protect and advance our national interests”.
His replacement, Bolton, 69, who has long been a polarizing figure in Washington foreign policy circles, becomes Trump’s third national security adviser in 14 months.
The departure of McMaster had been on the cards for some weeks amid ructions with the president. The pair have clashed several times over policy issues such as Afghanistan and Iran.
McMaster’s exit marks the climax of an extraordinarily shaky period in the leadership of US foreign policy.
Last week Trump fired Rex Tillerson as US secretary of state, placing the CIA director Mike Pompeo into the role of the nation’s top diplomat.
The official line from the White House about McMaster’s departure was that there was a need for a new foreign policy team to be put in place before Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea, which is planned for spring.
But McMaster’s departure was also announced just two days after the president was reportedly infuriated by a leak of intimate briefing documents relating to his conversation with the Vladimir Putin, in which he congratulated Putin upon his re-election as Russian president against the advice of aides.
The White House has denied that McMaster’s departure had anything to do with the leak.
Bolton’s arrival as national security advisor now casts a shadow over the future of the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, and the defence secretary, James Mattis, both of whom are reported to see Bolton as a wild card, and a civilian with no experience of war who has backed plunging the US into new conflicts.
The former envoy to the UN in the George W Bush administration has been a consistent advocate of the use of military force to further US goals around the globe.
He was an enthusiastic booster of the invasion of Iraq, based on the grounds – later proved spurious – that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.
Last month, Bolton published a commentary arguing the legality of a first strike against North Korea, saying the country’s development of nuclear weapons and long range missiles posed an imminent threat to the US. He has rejected counter arguments that North Korea can be contained and deterred.
His appointment is also the latest in a long series of signals Trump has sent in recent months that he is determined to take the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, in the face of strong protests from European allies, as well as Russia and China, who are join signatories to the deal.
Last August, when he claimed it was no longer able to get access to Trump, Bolton published an open memo on how to “free America from this execrable deal at the earliest opportunity”.
Some conservatives close to the White House had argued that Bolton was too hawkish for Trump, and that his foreign adventurism would detract from the president’s “America first” strategy of concentrating on creating US jobs and cutting immigration. But Trump, increasingly besieged by the investigation into his campaign’s contacts with the Kremlin, now seems to have set his sights on asserting US might abroad.
It is unclear how Trump’s friendly approach to Vladimir Putin will cohabit with Bolton’s more traditionally hawkish approach to Moscow. On the day his appointment was announced, Bolton made light of the issue. He told Breitbart radio that the president’s offer congratulations on Putin’s election was “insignificant”.
“In the course of my career I’ve said lots of nice things to foreign diplomats and foreign officials that if I thought about it I’d probably have to bite my tongue before I say it,” Bolton said.
The radical shake-up in Trump’s top foreign policy and national security team comes a little over a month before two critical events: a decision, due in mid-May, over whether to stay in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and a planned summit with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
Bolton is one of the Iran deal’s fiercest opponents, and an advocate of a military solution to the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
In an interview two weeks ago, Bolton said the president demanded the immediate disarming of North Korea, and failing that, will cut off further talks.
“If you look at it as a way to foreshorten the amount of time we will waste in negotiations, that will never produce the result we want which is Kim giving up his nuclear programme, I think that’s a good thing,” Bolton said on Fox News.