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Trump and John Bolton argued over Iran sanctions

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By Carol E. Lee and Courtney Kube  with NBC News Politics
Image: National Security Advisor John Bolton Holds Briefing At The White Ho
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: White House National Security Advisor John Bolton talks to reporters outside of the White House West Wing April 30, 2019 in Washington, DC. Bolton answered questions about the security and political turmoil in Venezuela and call   -   Copyright  Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Former national security adviser John Bolton's abrupt departure on Tuesday came after President Donald Trump suggested he might lift some U.S. sanctions on Iran as an incentive for Tehran to come to the negotiating table, according to a person close to Bolton.

This person said Trump raised the idea of lifting sanctions during a discussion with Bolton in the Oval Office on Monday afternoon. Bolton made clear to the president that he strongly disagreed with the idea, this person said.

Bolton was out as national security adviser the following morning, though he and Trump disagree over who made that decision. The president has said he fired him, while Bolton has said he resigned.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As national security adviser, Bolton was a leading advocate of the Trump administration's so-called "maximum pressure campaign," designed to squeeze Iran's economy until its leadership was forced to curtail its aggression in the region and concede to U.S. demands to dismantle its nuclear program.

Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year. Iran has since decided not to comply with the agreement. Trump recently has said he would meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, perhaps later this month on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, without preconditions.

Iran has said it won't negotiate with the U.S. until sanctions are lifted.

French President Emmanuel Macron has proposed providing Iran with $15 billion in non-U.S. funds to jump-start talks. Trump has suggested he might sign off on such a proposal, which would require the U.S. to advise financial institutions that they would not face penalties if they facilitate such transactions.

But the person close to Bolton said the president went further during a 2 p.m. meeting on Monday in suggesting he would lift U.S. sanctions. The possibility of Iran sanctions relief was in part what prompted Bolton to submit a resignation letter to the president the following morning, this person said.

Trump indicated on Wednesday that he might be open to sanctions relief.

"We'll see what happens," he told reporters when asked about possibly easing sanctions on Iran.