Hook, so far a rare survivor at the highest levels of the State Department in the Trump-era maelstrom, has not given a reason for his resignation, saying the “maximum pressure” campaign against the Iran had been “very successful”.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Hook’s departure and called him “a trusted advisor to me and a good friend” but gave no reason for leaving.
Pompeo added that Hook had “achieved historic results against the Iranian regime”.
Hook has played a central role in efforts to squeeze the Iranian economy in the two years since Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a 2015 multilateral nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA ), which limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. .
The “maximum pressure” campaign inflicted considerable hardship on Iran, but backfired its goal of further restricting the country’s nuclear activities. These have been stepped up, and Iran’s breakthrough time – the period during which the country would need to build its first nuclear weapon, if it so decided – fell from over a year to a few months. .
Next week, the United States plans to step up its campaign by introducing a UN Security Council resolution calling for the extension of an international arms embargo against Iran, with the threat that if the resolution is rejected, it will take a radical and legally controversial step: claim to still technically be a participant in the JCPOA and use the terms of the agreement to “resume” UN sanctions against Iran.
Hook had tried to rally the support of the American allies for such a move, with very little success.
“The easiest way is to roll back the arms embargo,” Hook told the Aspen Security Forum Wednesday. “It’s not difficult – there’s every reason in the world to do it. But we’ll do it one way or another. ”
Reflecting on his role, Hook told the New York Times, “Sometimes it’s the journey and sometimes it’s the destination. In the case of our Iranian strategy, it’s both. We would like a new agreement with the regime. But in the meantime, our pressures have collapsed their finances.“At almost every level, the regime and its terrorist proxies are weaker than they were three and a half years ago,” Hook added. “Agree or disagree, we’ve had a lot of success. ”
At one point in his efforts to isolate Iran, Hook personally emailed the captain of an oil tanker suspected of transporting Iranian oil to Syria, offering him money to divert the cargo, according to an account. reported in the Financial Times.
Ariane Tabatabai, a researcher at the German Marshall Fund in the United States, argued that the American campaign had not changed Iranian policy in the region and had led to a reduction in Iran’s nuclear breakthrough time.
“At best, the policy he helped craft produced minor tactical successes, at worst it was counterproductive, and on big issues it was an abject failure,” said Tabatabai, who released a report on Iran’s nuclear decision-making on Thursday.
In his work as special envoy for Venezuela, Abrams also failed to isolate the government of Nicolás Maduro and strengthen the position of rival presidential candidate Juan Guaidó.
David Smilde, a Venezuelan specialist in the Washington office on Latin America, said he suspected Abrams of not being replaced as special envoy for Venezuela, and said his decision suggested that Maduro’s withdrawal had slipped down Trump’s to-do list.
Smilde said: “This should be a message to the Venezuelan opposition that they are not a top priority for the United States and that they really need to defend their own ship and make sure they come up with a plausible strategy. to address Maduro’s authoritarian government. . If that was a priority, they wouldn’t take a key person and move them elsewhere.
He said administration officials appeared to have lost confidence in their initial belief that an “easy victory” could be achieved in Venezuela, forcing Maduro out of power and replacing him with Guaidó.
“They just don’t see that this situation is going to be resolved anytime soon,” added Smilde.
Abrams was a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, in which the Reagan government orchestrated arms sales to Iran in order to raise unofficial funds for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. He was convicted in 1991 on two counts of illegally withholding information from Congress, but later pardoned by George W. Bush.
“Maybe Trump internally blames Hook for his failure to get Iran to agree to negotiate with a president no one respects or trusts,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft .
“Nonetheless, replacing him with Abrams – a more sophisticated and astute operator who is even more hawkish – certainly doesn’t seem to suggest a change in policy. As much as Trump says he wants talks, he continues to surround himself with neocons and war hawks revolted by the idea of diplomacy.