HJS VIRTUAL EVENT: “Brian H. Hook & The Rt. Hon. Jeremy Hunt MP: In Transatlantic Conversation on Iran”

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HJS VIRTUAL EVENT: “Brian H. Hook & The Rt. Hon. Jeremy Hunt MP: In Transatlantic Conversation on Iran”

4th June 2020 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

It is easy to forget this now, but at the start of 2020, the biggest flashpoint for many international policy-makers was not a global pandemic in the making, but the vexed question of how to handle Iran.

When US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2018 supported by the Obama administration – citing its many flaws and a desire to renegotiate it to make it stronger and permanent – his European fellow signatories refused to follow suit. Their attempts to keep it alive were however fatally undermined by Iran’s flagrant violations of the agreement, which finally forced its dispute resolution mechanism into process this year.

At the same time, the Middle East was brought to the brink of conflict by Iran’s aggressions, which necessitated the dramatic US targeting of Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s chief terrorist puppeteer. With the US making clear that any serious Iranian reprisals would be met by escalation, Tehran backed down. The regime was of course not helped by its shooting down of a civilian airliner in its own airspace, which re-ignited serious social unrest from ordinary Iranians desperate to be free of the incompetence and strictures of their state.

Covid-19 may have interrupted the usual flow of Middle East affairs, but it has not disrupted them completely, as demonstrated by naval flashpoints last month. So with the US policy of “Maximum Pressure” continuing, what is next in store for global Iran policy? Will the US approach work, with Iran deciding that regime survival is worth finally abandoning its nuclear and neighbourhood ambitions for good or is renewed conflict likely? And are the Europeans finally ready to concede that JCPOA is dead and join the US in seeking a better resolution?

In order to explore the possibilities, HJS is delighted to welcome Brian H. Hook, US Special Representative for Iran & Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State and The Rt. Hon. Jeremy Hunt MP, former UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Mr Hunt will lead a conversation with Mr Hook, following which both participants will participate in a Q&A session.



Brian Hook is the U.S. Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State. Prior to this appointment, he served as Director of the Policy Planning Staff from 2017-2018.

From 2009-2017, he managed an international strategic consulting firm based in Washington, DC. He held a number of senior positions in the Bush Administration, including Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations; Senior Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; Special Assistant to the President for Policy in the White House Chief of Staff’s office; and Counsel, Office of Legal Policy, at the Justice Department.

He practiced corporate law at Hogan & Hartson in Washington from 1999-2003. Before practicing law, he served as an advisor to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and to U.S. Congressman James Leach.



Jeremy Hunt is Member of Parliament for South West Surrey since 2005. One of the most high profile and successful politicians in recent British history, having served in senior Ministerial roles from 2010-19 under Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.

Hunt was the Minister for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, responsible for delivering the 2012 London Olympic Games, widely and internationally acclaimed as a resounding success. Promoted to Secretary of State for Health in 2012, he held the post for six years – the longest ever serving Health Secretary, and is credited with far reaching reforms of the National Health Service.

As Foreign Secretary from 2018-19, Hunt was at the forefront of steering the global approach to the UK’s international partners and allies, in the lead up to the UK’s departure from the European Union. He oversaw numerous complex foreign policy affairs, including the strengthening of the US-UK Special Relationship, navigating Britain’s policy in the Middle East and Iran, and forging closer ties with Commonwealth Countries.

In January 2020, Hunt was elected as Chair of the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee.



Event Summary:


In ‘Brian Hook & Jeremy Hunt: In Transatlantic Conversation on Iran’ Dr Alan Mendoza hosted a discussion between the Rt. Hon. Jeremy Hunt MP and the US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State. Jeremy Hunt began by interviewing Brian Hook on US foreign policy towards Iran, given the many changes since the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Mr. Hook began by detailing Iran’s status following the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to several government decisions such as maintaining flights between Iran and China, Iran not only faced a serious challenge from Covid-19 within its own country but exported the disease to several other countries in the region. Mr Hook explained that the Us offered humanitarian assistance multiple times in response to the increasingly dire situation, but the Iranian government repeatedly rejected it. Mr Hook explained that in some ways this is symbolic of US policy towards Iran. Mr Hook explained that US policy towards Iran is composed of three reinforcing components: economic pressure, diplomatic isolation, and the credible threat of military force to defend American interests and citizens. The aim of the policy is to convince Iran to approach the negotiating table and create a new Iran nuclear deal that without the favourable sunset clauses. Mr Hook claims that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is prepared to restore diplomatic ties, end all sanctions, and welcome Iran to the international community in return for such a deal. Mr Hook’s justification for sanctions was that they an effective way to reduce Iran’s ability to destabilise the region as the revenues lost from the sale of oil would not have been distributed amongst the Iranian people but instead would feed Iran’s kleptocracy. When asked at what time he expects Iran to enter negotiations, Mr Hook offered that it is likely Iran will try to wait out negotiations until after the November 2020 US presidential elections so that the regime may see with what type of administration it would be dealing. However, Mr Hook was confident Iran will eventually come to the table because ‘that’s their history’.

A key point of discussion was around the UN arms embargo which is set to end in October this year. Mr Hook argued that it is necessary for the arms embargo to remain in place because Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and state sponsor of antisemitism. Accordingly, his team have drafted a resolution after consulting Saudi Arabia and the UAE and have presented the resolution with the Russians, the Chinese, and the EU three. Mr Hunt weighed in on this point and agreed that there is an urgency to maintain the arms embargo. However, Mr Hunt pointed out the slight irony of the US wanting to extend an embargo on a deal that it itself has withdrawn from and is using the mechanisms of the deal to achieve that.

Mr. Hook was also questioned about regime change and the efficacy of his approach to Iran. While Mr Hunt offered his time as foreign secretary in Iran gave him the impression that Iranians believe all the US is interested in is regime change in Iran, Mr. Hook offered that this is not something US policy will pursue. He emphasised that the fate of the Iranian people will be decided by them and not by the US. Furthermore, he claims the US has made it clear to the regime that there is a strong desire for a diplomatic solution between the Trump administration and the Iranian regime. When questioned about whether his approach has been successful despite admitting the primary objective of bringing Iran to negotiate is unlikely to happen soon, Mr Hook emphasised that the decision to pull out of the deal had the opposite effect of creating a rallying around the regime as much of the commentariat suggested. Indeed, Mr. Hook argued the protests in Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran are indicative of a successful strategy as not one has focused on the US, President Trump, or American sanctions. He offered the US has done everything to set the table for success.

On a final note, Mr Hook stated he is optimistic for the future of a post-Brexit UK foreign policy. He emphasised the impact a strong nation like the UK has on implementing a foreign policy and that he is optimistic for the future of UK-US collaboration on Iranian foreign policy.


4th June 2020
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm


United Kingdom


Henry Jackson Society
+44 (0) 20 7340 4520


Brian H Cook, The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP


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