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US Iran envoy Brian Hook steps down as UN arms embargo vote looms

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Hook’s surprise departure comes as Washington lobbies the United Nations to extend an arms embargo on Iran.

Top United States envoy for Iran Brian Hook is leaving his post – and Elliott Abrams, the US special representative for Venezuela, will add Iran to his role “following a transition period” with Hook, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday.

Hook’s surprise departure comes at a critical time when Washington has been intensely lobbying at the United Nations to extend an arms embargo on Iran and as the UN Security Council prepares to hold a vote on a US resolution next week.

“We’re going to continue to make the case for this,” Hook told reporters on Thursday morning, hours before his departure was announced. “We hope that the council can find a way.”

It was not immediately clear when Hook’s tenure would formally end and whether he would see through the vote or not.

Pompeo did not give a reason for Hook’s decision to leave but wrote in a tweet that Hook was moving on to the private sector. He described him as a “trusted adviser and a good friend” who has achieved “historic results” in countering Tehran and secured the release of US citizens detained by Iran.

I thank Special Representative Brian Hook for his 3+ years of service to the State Department and @realDonaldTrump as he moves on to the private sector. He has been a valued member of my leadership team.

Hook, 52, was appointed to the top Iran role at the State Department in late 2018 and has been instrumental in Washington’s intensifying pressure campaign on Tehran after President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers.

Opponents criticised Hook and the administration for overly harsh and indiscriminate sanctions, which they said were hurting ordinary Iranians and failing to change the behaviour of the Iranian government.

The US bid at the Security Council to extend the arms embargo is a key test that some diplomats say will likely fail as it lacks the necessary support and as veto powers Russia and China have already signalled opposition.

If the US is unsuccessful in its bid, it has threatened to trigger a return of all UN sanctions under a process known as snapback. Some diplomats have suggested Washington will likely start the snapback process, which could take up to 30 days, by the end of August.

“Hook’s departure underscores the escalating risks surrounding US-Iran relations in the coming months,” Eurasia Group analyst Henry Rome said in an emailed note to clients.

“Hook travelled to Europe and the Middle East last month to gin up support for the arms embargo extension, an effort that appears to have failed,” Rome said. “It’s possible he did not want to be wrapped up in the messy snapback process.” 

Abrams, 72, a Republican foreign policy veteran, was named US special representative for Venezuela in January 2019 and has led a hard-line approach aimed at ousting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

US officials have said privately that Trump has been frustrated by the failure to remove Maduro, who retains the support of the Venezuelan military, as well Russia, China, Cuba and Iran.

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