Is Iran's regime pleased with Brian Hook’s departure or worried?

Brian Hook is leaving the position of Iran envoy after two years without having accomplished the US goal. Elliot Abrams is taking over.

US special representative for Iran Brian Hook speaks during a joint news conference with Bahrain Foreign Minister, Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani (not pictured), in Manama, Bahrain June 29, 2020. (photo credit: HAMAD I MOHAMMED/REUTERS)
US special representative for Iran Brian Hook speaks during a joint news conference with Bahrain Foreign Minister, Dr. Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani (not pictured), in Manama, Bahrain June 29, 2020.
(photo credit: HAMAD I MOHAMMED/REUTERS)
Iran’s regime is watching carefully changes in Washington as US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook is departing his post. A key element in the maximum pressure campaign against Iran, he will be replaced by Elliot Abrams, US special representative for Venezuela.
Iran knows that Abrams is a hardliner and will bring energy to the post. But Iran has also suffered under the coordinated sanctions and efforts of Hook. This leaves the regime in a conundrum. Celebrate the departure of one American, only to get something worse, or wait and see?
In English, Iran is putting a positive spin on it, sowing rumors that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might be on the outs as well. Iran’s Press TV says that the US has been lobbying “in vain” to get the UN to keep up an arms embargo on Iran.
Iran’s regime also reads what the US media is saying and has noted that former officials from the Obama administration, some of whom are advising US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, have portrayed Hook’s departure as evidence of US failure.
In this narrative, the US has failed to deter Iran and isolate it. Instead, Iran will get out of the arms embargo and not be constrained by the Iran Deal of 2015, which the Trump administration walked away from.
Iran’s Press TV approvingly quotes The New York Times as noting that Hook is leaving after two years without having accomplished the US goal. Iran portrays this as a success, having not ended its nuclear enrichment program despite US sanctions. While Tehran puts on a brave face, arguing that there is no difference between Hook, Pompeo, former National Security Advisor John Bolton or Abrams, it must wonder what will come next.
Iran is trying to signal to friends in the West that it has withstood the Americans. It tries to portray its problem as being strictly with the Trump administration, hoping a change in Washington might be to its benefit.
In this sense, Iran’s messaging is clearly aware of US politics and disputes. Iran wants to play into the image of it being prepared to moderate its stance under a new US policy. Evidence, of course, does not indicate that Iran has moderated anything. It continues to threaten Israel and the US, and shows off its lawless behavior by attacking Saudi Arabia, ships in the gulf of Oman and downing a civilian airliner over the past year. It also continues to make more lethal drones and ballistic missiles.
In the end, Abrams will bring to the table a strong record on Israel, as well as deep knowledge of Iran’s role in the Middle East. Coming from the Venezuela desk, he also knows how Iran is supporting the regime in Caracas. Iran has been boosting shipments to Caracas in recent months. The US has not succeeded to change Iran’s behavior or change the regime in Venezuela.
It is unclear if the US has succeeded or not because the administration never put a clear bar as to what success would mean. This leaves questions as to whether the goal was merely to isolate and cause trouble to both Iran and Venezuela, which the US has clearly accomplished, or if it was to pressure the regimes into making a mistake.
Iran has ordered attacks on US forces in Iraq but was surprised the US killed IRGC Quds force head Qasem Soleimani in January. Iran’s regime media has in the past tried to portray Pompeo as more of a hardliner than Trump. It also did the same with Bolton and Iran’s friends in other countries have pushed narratives that portrayed Bolton as sabotaging Trump’s efforts at a meeting or discussions with Iran.
Was there really a Trump meeting planned with Iran’s president and would Iran have actually met with Trump? That is unclear. But what is clear is Iran wants to create an appearance of daylight within the White House and to influence US policy by playing off some US officials against others.
In the end, the overall Iran narrative is to portray itself and allies as “resisting” the US in the Middle East and portray Israel and Saudi Arabia as part of the US axis in the region.
Iran accuses the US as sometimes doing Israel’s bidding, but overall its goal remains the same in terms of reducing the US role in Iraq and elsewhere regardless of who is in the White House.
It may be temporarily cheering Hook’s departure, but it knows that little will change in Washington on Iran policy until Trump leaves. The rest is just Iranian regime and media commentary.


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