US President Joe Biden has tapped his former close adviser Amos Hochstein as a State Department energy envoy tasked with enacting a controversial gas pipeline deal, a report said Monday.
The Biden administration announced last month that it had reached a deal with Germany that will allow the completion of the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe without the imposition of further US sanctions, which were applied under former president Donald Trump in an effort to block the plan.
The pipeline project allows Moscow to bypass Ukraine, Poland, and other countries in Eastern and Central Europe that collect transit fees on the energy.
The Israel-born Hochstein has openly opposed the project, which he has described as “the existential crisis facing Ukraine.” Even the Biden administration has conceded that the pipeline is “a Kremlin geopolitical project that threatens European energy security,” but it also sees the plan as now irreversible. The deal is expected to be completed in the coming months.
A Biden official said Hochstein’s appointment, which does not need to be confirmed by Congress, had been planned for some time and was not a “course correction” in policy because of criticism of the deal, Axios reported.
A source who has worked with Hochstein on energy in the past said the appointment was an attempt by the Washington administration to use his hawkish credentials to make the deal more acceptable.
“They’re trying to hide this terrible deal behind his credibility in the hopes it will make people forget just how bad this deal is,” the unnamed source told Axios.
Others said they hope that Hochstein will oversee a change in policy regarding the pipeline deal, which opponents fear could enable Russia to use energy supplies as a weapon.
A source close to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Axios that Hochstein’s appointment could show “recognition that the policy to date has not been a success and that this appointment results in a real course improvement and is not window dressing.”
Hochstein has previously served as the US State Department’s special envoy for international energy affairs in 2014-2017, during which time he advised then-US vice president Biden on global energy issues.
Last November, Hochstein said that rejoining the Iran nuclear deal was a high priority for Biden.
Hochstein, who oversaw energy sanctions on Iran during former president Barack Obama’s tenure, said at the time that Biden wanted “some changes” to the pact clinched in 2015 — and abandoned by Trump in 2018 — including its expiration date.
After Trump pulled out, Iran responded by walking back measures it had agreed to abide by, including enriching uranium to unprecedented levels, near weapons-grade.
European Union-sponsored talks in Vienna have aimed to revive the unraveling deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. But the last round took place on June 20, with no date set for when they would resume.
Western powers fear that the ascension of hardline new Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has quashed any realistic chance of a resumption of the now-abrogated agreement.