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Why is Princeton harboring a man who condones threats against American diplomats?

Hook at IAEA.jpg
Fmr. US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook arrives at the International Atomic Energy Agency
Dean Calma/CC BY 2.0

The following is a guest contribution and reflects the author’s views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.

Princetonians should learn the name Brian Hook. He served as the top U.S. diplomat for Iranian affairs from 2018–2020. Hook also helped negotiate historic peace treaties in the Middle East, collectively known as the Abraham Accords


Hook’s work also bears directly on the Princeton community. In 2019, as State Department officials, we saw Hook lead secret negotiations for the release of Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang, held by the Iranian government. Wang had been held hostage in the notorious Evin Prison for three years. 

Hook’s efforts on Wang’s behalf were heroic. Unfortunately, Princeton University continues to support a scholar — Dr. Seyed Hossein Mousavian — who amplifies the Iranian regime’s death threats against Hook and his family. 

Princeton University administrators have chosen to ignore the matter, not even deigning to respond to a letter on the issue sent by former U.S. Ambassador Mark Wallace, the CEO of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). We call on the University to firmly condemn the threats condoned by Mousavian, and to promptly respond to the UANI letter, which calls for Mousavian’s termination. 

Mousavian is employed by Princeton as a Middle East Security and Nuclear Policy Specialist at the Program on Science and Global Security. Mousavian’s career has been marked by the shadow of controversy, dating back to his tenure as the ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Germany. Despite Mousavian’s past claims that he is an exile of the Iranian government, former Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stated in 2016 that Mousavian has remained a loyal friend of the Iranian regime. 

In a documentary released earlier this year paying homage to UN-sanctioned Iranian general and US-designated terrorist Qasem Soleimani, Mousavian smiled while referring to death threats made by the Iranian regime against Mr. Hook. He said [in Farsi]: “An American told me that Brian Hook’s wife can’t sleep, and she cries and trembles as they say they’ll kill Hook…that is how shaken they are!” Mousavian’s recounting of the regime’s threats and their impact was cold, sneering, and callous. It is baffling that Princeton University leadership remains silent in the face of Mousavian’s amplification of threats made against Hook and his family. 

These threats are no joking matter. Even though Hook has left government service, he — along with other current and former U.S. government officials — is still being targeted for assassination by the Iranian regime. Given Mousavian’s long service to and affiliation with the Iranian regime, he certainly knew that his words would be used for propaganda. They are an affront to basic decency and must be condemned without hesitation.


Princeton’s top leadership and Mousavian’s direct employers are aware of these remarks. UANI flagged them for University President Christopher Eisgruber in the public letter earlier this month. 

Consistent with Princeton’s guidelines for complaints against faculty, we also personally relayed these facts to Dean Amaney Jamal of the School of Public and International Affairs and Professor Alex Glaser, co-Director of the Program on Science and Global Security, which directly employs Mousavian. More than a month has passed since we reached out to Jamal and Graser, but our repeated requests have been met with total silence.

This silence is especially outrageous given Hook’s pivotal role in the release of a Princeton community member from an Iranian prison. In 2016, Xiyue Wang, a Princeton doctoral student in history, traveled to Iran for research. He was taken hostage by Iranian government police and charged with bogus “national security” crimes, while the regime hoped to extract ransom payments for his release. Princeton asked for the assistance of the U.S. government to release Wang from prison (though Wang recently filed a lawsuit against Princeton University accusing them of severe negligence in the matter).

We personally witnessed Hook working from early morning to late night on the secret negotiations with the Iranian government through foreign intermediaries that finally led to Wang’s release. On Dec. 7, 2019, Wang was flown out of Iran on a Swiss government plane that landed in Geneva. Hook organized a U.S. government plane to fly to meet Wang at the same time and finalized his release

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Those details are public, but as State Department employees, we had an insider picture into  Wang’s release. Once freed, Hook gave Wang an American flag, took him out to eat, and asked if there was anything — anything — he could get for Wang. He asked for a phone and laptop so that he could reconnect with the world he had been separated from for the past 40 months. So, Hook went to the nearest Apple store, took out his personal credit card, and bought Wang an iPhone and laptop.

Yes, Hook was doing his job as a public servant, but he went above and beyond to help Princeton resolve one of their most vexing challenges — the unlawful detention of one of their students by a foreign government.

We take to the pages of The Daily Princetonian to demand an answer from the University: why are you refusing to acknowledge the threats made against U.S. diplomat Brian Hook and his family? Why have you not condemned Mousavian? And is complicit silence a fitting response to Hook’s service to the nation and the University?

We eagerly await Princeton’s response.

Morgan Ortagus served as the Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State under Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo. Gabriel Noronha served as the State Department’s Special Advisor for Iran under Secretary Pompeo.

Editor’s Note: In the process of publishing this piece, the ‘Prince’ took several steps to corroborate the authors account of the content of the documentary and Brian Hook’s role in Xiyue Wang’s release, including independent translation from Farsi to English.

Xiyue Wang has named Dr. Seyed Hossein Mousavian in his lawsuit against Princeton University, alleging Dr. Mousavian did not use his contacts in the Iranian government to aid Wang’s release.

 See a related op-ed on the UANI letter here.