Trump’s Iran point man Hook quits as US pushes arms embargo
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Trump’s Iran point man Hook quits as US pushes arms embargo

Brian Hook’s departure comes as Washington fights a losing battle to get UN Security Council members behind new weapons limitations; he’ll be replaced by Elliott Abrams

Brian Hook, US special representative for Iran, speaks at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, on November 29, 2018. (Carolyn Kaster/ AP)
Brian Hook, US special representative for Iran, speaks at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, on November 29, 2018. (Carolyn Kaster/ AP)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration’s top envoy for Iran is stepping down just as the United States tries to move ahead with a major diplomatic effort that would extend a UN arms embargo against Tehran in the face of widespread international opposition.

Brian Hook announced his departure on Thursday, a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would call for a UN Security Council vote next week on a resolution to indefinitely extend the embargo, which is due to expire in October.

That resolution is expected to fail, setting the stage for a showdown between the US and the other Security Council members over the reimposition of all international sanctions on Iran. President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal two years ago but his administration argues it retains the right to invoke the “snapback” of UN sanctions because it is a council member. Others disagree.

Pompeo said in a statement that Hook “has been my point person on Iran for over two years and he has achieved historic results.”

Hook will be replaced after an as-yet undetermined transition period as Iran envoy by Elliott Abrams, the US envoy for Venezuela.

US Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams testifies before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on Venezuela, in Washington, DC, on February 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Abrams, a key architect of the Iraq war, will take over while still keeping his job seeking to topple Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Pompeo said.

Hook, a longtime Republican foreign policy fixture, was an early arrival in the Trump administration. He served as the department’s director of policy planning under Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. After Tillerson was fired, Pompeo appointed Hook to the Iran position.

As policy planning chief, Hook tried to strengthen the Iran deal, which Trump denounced during the 2016 presidential campaign as the worst deal ever and pledged to pull out from. But once Tillerson was fired and Pompeo took over with a presidential mandate to withdraw from the deal, his focus shifted to reimposing US sanctions on Iran.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the State Department in Washington, on June 11, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Pool via AP)

Under the deal orchestrated largely by the Obama administration, Iran was granted billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program that the US and others alleged was a cover for atomic weapons development. Once he became Iran envoy, Hook was in charge of identifying sanctions to be restored and trying to lobby Europeans and others to follow suit.

At the same time, Hook had some success in negotiating prisoner swaps with Iran, securing the release of two Americans in exchange for Iranians held in the United States. Hook twice flew to Zurich, Switzerland, to take custody of freed Americans.

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