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The US Envoy for Iran Leaves Just as the US Pushes for a UN Vote on Its Weapons Ban

Brian Hook, the US envoy for Iran, with Prime Minister  Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah, Kuwait City, July 27, 2020. Hook has left his job just as the US wants the UN Security Council to vote on a resolution extending the arms ban embedded in the Iran nuclear deal. Elliott Abrams, US envoy for Venezuela, is to replace Hook. 

Only days before the United States said it would submit a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council to extend an Iran arms embargo, the American envoy for Iran has resigned. Brian Hook, who also held the post as senior policy adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was described by his boss as “my point person on Iran for over two years” and credited him with having “achieved historic results countering the Iranian regime.” Pompeo announced the news on Aug. 6.

Hook was appointed Iran envoy in August 2018, as part of the State Department’s new Iran Action Group, organized to pressure Iran to change its behavior in the Middle East after the US withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The deal was devised to maintain as much control as possible over Iranian nuclear-weapons development.

Hook will be replaced by Elliott Abrams, a longtime hawk who will remain the US envoy for Venezuela as well, suggesting that the portfolio has grown stale. Abrams, a more blunt-talking diplomat than Hook, pleaded guilty for lying to Congress about the Iran-Contra affair in 1991 but was later pardoned.

The departure of Hook occurs a day after Pompeo said the US would submit its latest draft resolution, now circulating among all 15 members of the Security Council, for a vote next week, though no date was specified. The resolution caps a years-long effort by the US to ensure that the arms embargo element in the 2015 resolution that endorsed the Iran deal is extended after it expires on Oct. 18, 2020.

Hook had recently traveled to the Middle East, Britain and Estonia to garner support for the Council vote on the new draft, which needs nine yes votes and no vetoes to win approval. In his recent trip, Hook went to Tunisia, among other countries; Tunisia and Estonia are currently elected members of the Council, and Britain is a permanent member.

The US withdrew from the Iran deal in 2018, leaving remaining participants — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — struggling to hold the pact together despite the US imposition of sanctions, additional US threats of sanctions on any company doing business with Iran and the country’s own violations of parts of the agreement. Pundits have been saying for at least a year that the deal has been hanging by a thread under the strains of US exertion on Europeans to abandon or renegotiate it as well as Iranian nuclear-enrichment actions and warmongering in its region.

Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution weighing in on Hook’s reputation, Aug. 6, 2020.

Now, the US draft resolution that is expected to be voted on next week confronts at least two vetoes, from China and Russia, who have made no bones about their rejection of the US proposal. For one, they contend the US is no longer a participant to the JCPOA and so has no legal right to even think of submitting a resolution. The bigger issue, however, is that even if the resolution fails, the US said it would trigger the agreement’s snapback element, setting in motion a 30-day process to reimpose a slew of UN sanctions on Iran and collapsing the deal.

One Council diplomat admitted it would be difficult to stop the US from invoking the snapback clause, but where that will lead defies logic, many diplomats have said, as it would leave the world with no oversight of Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. European diplomats at the UN have been reluctant to talk openly about the prospects of the resolution and the snapback element, but negotiations have been held privately among diplomats in their respective capitals.

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The vote will occur under the rotating presidency of Indonesia; if the snapback is set into motion, the result could play out in September, when Niger holds the presidency. Russia owns that seat in October, making it difficult for the US to do much related to Iran.

The draft, seen by PassBlue, begins with a long catalog of Iranian aggressions in the Middle East that do not respect the “principles of territorial integrity, sovereignty, and international co-operation” laid out in the UN Charter.

In the second paragraph of the resolution, for example, the “attacks against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 14 September 2019,” are cited, noting that they “caused severe damage . . . targeted the security and stability of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and jeopardized the world economy by attacking the supply of energy.”

The list continues with more instances of Iranian antisocial behavior: arms supplies to the Houthi rebels in Yemen (per UN assessments); and attacks on foreign oil tankers and in Iraq.

The gist of the draft is the US goal of extending the arms embargo. The draft states, in referring to Resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA, that: Upon the expiration of the arms embargo, all member states “shall prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer to Iran, through their territories or by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in their territories, of arms and related materiel unless the [Security Council] Committee has approved at least 30-days in advance on a case-by-case basis such activity for humanitarian purposes or for any other purpose consistent with the objectives of this resolution.”

The draft also states: “Iran shall not supply, sell, or transfer, directly or indirectly, from its territory . . . any arms or related materiel, and that all Member States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flagged vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran.”

The draft aims to further isolate Iran from the rest of the world, stating that member states shall prevent “any transfers to Iran . . . of technical training, financial resources or services, advice, other services or assistance related to the supply, sale, transfer, manufacture, maintenance, or use of arms and related materiel. . . . “

For Council diplomats, the showdown of a vote on the draft resolution has been long anticipated but still nerve-wracking, as the US has refused to budge from its anti-Iran stance. As one diplomat said, “The United States is still a superpower” and has the ability to mobilize the world to a new Cold War.

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Dulcie Leimbach is the founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal) as well as from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, NHK’s English channel and Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles.
 

Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. She has also worked as an editorial consultant to various UN agencies. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver before she worked in New York at Esquire magazine and Adweek. In between, she was a Wall Street foreign-exchange dealer. Leimbach has been a fellow at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and was a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.

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