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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.

Go deeper

Nov 12, 2020 - World

Scoop: Pompeo plans unprecedented visit to West Bank settlement

Pompeo (L) and Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Photo: Jim Young/AFP via Getty

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is planning to visit the Golan Heights and an Israeli settlement in the West Bank next week, both firsts for a U.S. secretary of state.

Why it matters: Since 1967, all previous U.S. administrations have treated the West Bank and Golan Heights as occupied territory.

Nov 11, 2020 - World

Mixed reactions to Biden's victory across the Middle East

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The reactions across the Middle East to Joe Biden’s victory revealed the strategic calculations of leaders in the region heading into a post-Trump era.

Driving the news: Some leaders quickly congratulated Biden while others hesitated. Some were restrained in their statements, while others couldn’t hide their joy at President Trump’s defeat.

22 mins ago - Health

FDA advisory panel endorses Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine for emergency use

Photo: Illustration by Cezary Kowalski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday recommended the authorization of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot coronavirus vaccine for emergency use.

Why it matters: The FDA is expected to make a final decision within days on the J&J vaccine, which was found to be 66% effective against moderate to severe COVID. An emergency use authorization would allow distribution to immediately begin, helping streamline and speed up the vaccine rollout across the U.S.