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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Updated Sep 11, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: Navigating a post-pandemic world

Axios' Dave Lawler and Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian hosted a conversation on the future of U.S. foreign policy, the power players in Asia and what's next in the Middle East, featuring the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's President William Burns, Vice President for Studies Evan Feigenbaum and Carnegie Middle East Center Director Maha Yahya.

Maha Yahya discussed the current crisis in Lebanon and the decision faced by many Arab states on whether to try a more inclusive model of governance or maintain the status quo.

  • On the current state of affairs in Lebanon: "Lebanon is facing not only [a] massive governance challenge, which has driven the country not to the brink of an abyss but actually into the abyss. Lebanon today is facing a perfect storm of massive economic and financial crises."
  • On the impact of the deadly explosion in Beirut: "It's complete criminal negligence...This is Lebanon's own Chernobyl. A mix of bad governance, corruption, then everything that comes in between."

Evan Feigenbaum unpacked Chinese and American tensions in Asia, highlighting the impact on other states in the region.

  • On whether Asia will become more Chinese or American-centric: "I think there's enormous ambivalence about the rise of Chinese power from Tokyo to New Delhi to Hanoi, really all over the region...the region is really heading for a future that looks more like fragmentation than either unipolarity."
  • On the race for a COVID-19 vaccine: "If China gets to a [COVID-19] vaccine first, it will have enormous psychological effects in the region. It will showcase Chinese innovation, Chinese technology."

William Burns discussed the need to partner with global allies, as well as where the relationship between the U.S. and Iran currently sits.

  • On the U.S.'s biggest strength in foreign policy: "Our biggest asset...is our capacity to draw on alliances. That's what sets us apart from lonelier powers like China or Russia today."
  • On the impact of the Trump administration withdrawing from the Iran Deal: "The result has been...an Iran that's gradually restarting its nuclear program...We've done serious damage to some of our most important alliances, especially with our European allies, by pulling out of the deal against their wishes and their arguments. We've opened the door, I think, for China to strengthen its relationship with this Iranian regime."

Thank you Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for partnering with us on this event.

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Where key GOP senators stand on replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talks to reporters on Capitol Hill last Thursday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

With President Trump planning to nominate his third Supreme Court justice nominee this week, key Republican senators are indicating their stance on replacing the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with less than 50 days until Election Day.

The state of play: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has vowed that "Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate." Two GOP senators — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — have said they oppose holding a vote before the election, meaning that two more defections would force McConnell to delay until at least the lame-duck session of Congress.

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