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 the 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,” Reuters reported.
A senior administration official said the transition would take a couple of weeks and Abrams was expected to retain both the Iran and Venezuela roles for the remainder of President Donald Trump’s term.
Pompeo did not give a reason for the change 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 had achieved “historic results in countering” Tehran and securing the release of US citizens detained by Iran.
Hook, 52, was appointed to the top Iran role at the State Department in late 2018 and has been instrumental in Washington’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran after Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers.
Opponents criticized Hook and the administration for overly harsh and indiscriminate sanctions, which they said were hurting ordinary Iranians.
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 veto powers Russia and China have already signaled their opposition.
If the United States 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.
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 as Russia, China, Cuba and Iran.
Abrams has recently been dealing with US concerns about a growing alliance between Iran and Venezuela, both OPEC members under heavy US sanctions. Iran in recent months has sent fuel tankers to gasoline-short Venezuela, drawing US ire.message end/