US State Department faults envoy for removing employee of Iranian heritage

US State Department faults envoy for removing employee of Iranian heritage

Report finds no proof US pointman on Tehran, Brian Hook, was biased against Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, but says he didn’t do enough to push back on campaign against her

Sahar Nowrouzzadeh (YouTube screenshot)
Sahar Nowrouzzadeh (YouTube screenshot)

WASHINGTON — A State Department investigation Thursday faulted the US pointman on Iran over the removal of an employee of Iranian origin, voicing alarm about discussion of her ancestry.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agreed to consider disciplinary action against the envoy, Brian Hook, although strong measures appeared unlikely as management also disputed the report’s conclusions.

Under pressure from lawmakers, the State Department’s inspector general probed the early removal of Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, a career employee and US citizen, from the Office of Policy Planning, the internal think tank that sets priorities for US diplomacy.

The long-awaited report by the internal watchdog said that the White House, two months after US President Donald Trump took office in 2017, forwarded an article in conservative US media that was critical of Nowrouzzadeh’s continued position and highlighted her ancestry.

Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran, walks past pieces of Iranian short range ballistic missiles (Qiam) at the Iranian Materiel Display (IMD) at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, in Washington, November 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Julia Haller, a short-term liaison from the White House in charge of political appointments, in an email cited by the report said Nowrouzzadeh “was born in Iran and upon my understanding cried when the President won.”

Hook, who has championed Trump’s hard line on Iran and was then head of policy planning, removed Nowrouzzadeh in April 2017, three months before her one-year appointment made under former secretary of state John Kerry was due to run out.

The report found no evidence that Hook personally shared bias based over Nowrouzzadeh’s Iranian origin but said he did not refute the campaign against her, either.

“The comments regarding her perceived place of birth are particularly concerning,” the report said.

“Regardless of whether Mr. Hook personally shared the opinions and motivations expressed by Ms. Haller and others, the comments about [Nowrouzzadeh] in the articles and emails circulated within the Office of the Secretary suggest that improper factors likely influenced the requests to end her detail,” it said.

Nowrouzzadeh — who left to take a fellowship at Harvard University, where her biography says she was born in Connecticut — hailed the report and said that she “proudly” served the United States across Republican and Democratic administrations for 15 years.

“I continue to strongly encourage Americans of all backgrounds, including those of Iranian heritage, to consider public service to our nation and to not be discouraged by these findings,” she wrote on Twitter.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media before departing from al-Bateen Air Base in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 19, 2019, as US special representative on Iran Brian Hook, left, listens. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP)

The inspector general recommended training on personnel practices and said Pompeo “should consider whether disciplinary action is appropriate.”

The State Department in a response said Pompeo would consider discipline but set no timeline.

One of Pompeo’s top aides, Ulrich Brechbuhl, wrote that the State Department disagreed with the report’s conclusions.

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