Obama-era diplomat Robert Malley will face task of repairing ties that worsened under Trump after withdrawal from nuclear pact
Robert Malley (third from left attends a meeting with Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (far R) in Swizterland in 2015. Photograph: Reuters
The Guardian- Reuters
The Biden administration is expected name Robert Malley, a former top adviser in the Obama administration, as special envoy for Iran, according to multiple sources.
Malley was a key member of former Barack Obama’s team that negotiated the nuclear accord with Iran and world powers, an agreement that Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 in the face of strong opposition from Washington’s European allies.
“Secretary (of State) Blinken is building a dedicated team, drawing from clear-eyed experts with a diversity of views. Leading that team as our Special Envoy for Iran will be Rob Malley, who brings to the position a track record of success negotiating constraints on Iran’s nuclear program,” a State Department official said.
“The secretary is confident he and his team will be able to do that once again,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Malley’s appointment would task him with one of the new administration’s most daunting and politically divisive foreign policy challenges.
When Malley’s name first surfaced in news reports as a leading candidate for the post, he drew criticism from some Republican lawmakers and pro-Israel groups that expressed concern that he would be soft on Iran and tough on Israel. But a number of foreign policy veterans rushed to his defence, praising him as a respected, even-handed diplomat.
The post would make Malley the point person in Biden’s efforts to deal with Iran after years of worsening relations under Trump, who pulled out of a 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran and reimposed crippling economic sanctions.
He held numerous senior positions in the Democratic administrations of Obama and Bill Clinton with a focus on Middle East and Gulf policymaking, and informally advised Biden’s team during the 2020 campaign.
Most recently, he was the president of the International Crisis Group, a non-profit organization focused on global conflict.
Malley’s expected appointment comes as Biden and his foreign policy aides move to craft their approach to Iran. Malley is expected to report directly to secretary of state Antony Blinken, one Reuters source said.
Biden’s top diplomat on Wednesday stuck to the new administration’s stance that Tehran must resume complying with the Iran nuclear deal before Washington would do so.
Making his first public comments on Iran as secretary of state, Blinken reiterated Biden’s policy “that if Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] , the United States would do the same thing.”
But Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said on Twitter on Thursday that the United States should make the first move by returning to the nuclear pact.
The nuclear deal was struck by Iran and six major powers and committed Iran to restricting its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief from the US and others. Israel and Gulf Arab states strongly opposed the deal as not stringent enough on Tehran.
Malley, the son of an Egyptian journalist and Iran expert, was an informal adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign but resigned after it emerged he had met representatives of the Palestinian militant group Hamas while working for the International Crisis Group
Malley was later brought into the Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice president, as a top Middle East adviser.