Aug 6, 2020 - World

Elliott Abrams to replace Brian Hook as Trump's Iran envoy

Brian Hook. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Image

President Trump's Iran envoy, Brian Hook, is stepping down, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Thursday. He will be replaced with Venezuela envoy Elliott Abrams, a noted Iran hawk who will serve in both roles.

Why it matters: Hook had been tasked with executing Trump's "maximum pressure" policy toward Iran, working closely with Pompeo. That strategy has deepened tensions and thus far failed to force Iran back to the negotiating table, as Trump had hoped.

  • Hook insisted to the Times that Iran is now weaker: “Deal or no deal, we have been very successful.”
  • In June, Hook told Axios contributor Barak Ravid that the Trump administration would be willing to use military force if that's what it takes to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

What they're saying: "Special Representative Hook has been my point person on Iran for over two years and he has achieved historic results countering the Iranian regime," Pompeo said in a statement.

  • "He successfully negotiated with the Iranians the release of Michael White and Xiyue Wang from prison."
  • "Special Representative Hook also served with distinction as the Director of Policy Planning and set into motion a range of new strategies that advanced the national security interests of the United States and our allies. He has been a trusted advisor to me and a good friend."

Context: Abrams, who was tapped as Trump's special envoy for Venezuela in January 2019 as the administration looked to force President Nicolas Maduro from power, pleaded guilty in 1991 as part of the Iran-Contra affair. He was later pardoned by President George H. W. Bush.

  • The then-assistant secretary of state testified to Congress that the U.S. was not involved in arming the right-wing Contra rebel group against the socialist Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
  • Abrams later admitted to the independent counsel investigating the scandal that he had withheld information from Congress and entered a plea deal. He was sentenced to two years of probation and later served in the George W. Bush administration.
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