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Robert O'Brien in the Oval Office on Dec. 13. Photo: Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien tells Axios that despite predictions to the contrary, he's convinced Iran is more likely to return to the negotiating table since the U.S. killed Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani.

What he's saying: The strike will "reset deterrence," O'Brien added.

O'Brien sat down with Margaret Talev, Jonathan Swan and Alayna Treene at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Friday to talk about Iran and other national security challenges at the start of a new year.

  • On the prospects for diplomacy with Iran, O'Brien told us: "I think the chances of sitting down with the Iranians and getting to a deal have improved significantly" because Soleimani's "off the battlefield."
  • We'll have more from the broader conversation on Sunday evening in Sneak Peek.

Between the lines: O'Brien's claim flies in the face of what the Iranian leadership and regional experts are saying.

  • Iran's UN ambassador described U.S. diplomatic overtures this week as "unbelievable," in light of the Trump administration killing Soleimani — which Iran's leaders view as an act of war. The Trump administration also added more sanctions against Iran Friday.

O'Brien said he thinks "the Iranians have realized they don't want a military confrontation with the U.S. and that the maximum pressure campaign is not going to end."

  • "Soleimani's belief was he could end the maximum pressure campaign by going up an escalation ladder with the U.S., taking out drones, taking out Saudi refineries, taking ships and that sort of thing," O'Brien added.
  • "I think those plays are over now. ... I believe that the Iranians are standing down," O'Brien said.

After hotly denying it and blaming a mechanical problem, Iran today took responsibility for the fatal crash of a Ukrainian jet over Iran, saying it was an accident by the Revolutionary Guard.

  • O'Brien, speaking before that admission, said if it was a mistake by their armed forces, Iran must provide compensation to victims' families and allow a "full and impartial" investigation.

O'Brien described a president who was determined to project strength as he saw pro-Iranian crowds attack the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

  • At Trump's direction, O'Brien said, the U.S. brought in a Marine Corps company and Army infantry platoon: "We got air assets, Apaches, up in the air, very quickly so that the crowd understood that this embassy was not going to be overrun. We were not going to have Tehran 1979. We weren't going to have Benghazi."
  • "In the context of this, we received very strong intelligence that Soleimani was coming to the region to meet with his proxy allies, not just in Baghdad but Damascus and Beirut" to plan attacks against Americans.
  • "We believed that if we took him off the battlefield that we could disrupt the attacks that were being planned against the United States."

Gulf allies to the U.S. can feel assured, O'Brien said, that "the U.S. is there to deter" Iranian aggression and "the Iranians understand that we mean business" and they should "think very carefully about attacking the United States and its interests in the region."

  • He stopped short of any absolute guarantees, saying he wasn't going to negotiate defense treaties through an interview.

We asked O'Brien why the Trump administration publicly took credit for killing Soleimani, rather than killing him anonymously and leaving a "zone of deniability" — which some analysts have argued would have been more prudent because it would have been less humiliating to Iran's leaders. His response:

  • "There weren't too many countries with the capability of undertaking that attack."
  • Soleimani "was involved in plotting attacks against Americans at the time" and "we were going to disrupt those attacks. It would have become public."
  • "There was no reason not to own it."

Go deeper: Trump says "all is well" after Iranian strikes on bases hosting U.S. troops

Go deeper

Momentum builds to ban lawmakers from trading stocks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some progressive Democrats and MAGA Republicans are uniting on a proposal to ban sitting lawmakers from trading individual stocks, although it's unlikely that leadership will bring the bill up for a vote.

Why it matters: Members of Congress have great power to move stock prices, and great financial incentives to do so.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: The Weather Prediction Center said in a storm summary Monday that winter storm warnings are still in effect for portions of the Central Appalachians, Ohio Valley, interior Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast, while portions of the Central Appalachians and coastal New England are under high wind warnings.

Colleyville Rabbi credits survival to active-shooter training

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, one of the people taken hostage in a synagogue outside Fort Worth on Saturday, said in an interview with CBS Monday that he initially took in the man because he thought he needed shelter.

The big picture: Cytron-Walker said he spoke to the hostage taker, identified by the FBI as 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram, for several minutes and made him tea before Akram took the rabbi and three other people hostage during Shabbat services for around 11 hours in Colleyville, Texas.

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