Photo Credit: Dean Calma / IAEA / CC2.0
Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley

Robert Malley, a former national security official in the Obama administration and President Biden’s special envoy to the Iran nuclear negotiations––whatever that may mean––has been placed on unpaid leave on Thursday by the State Department for a review of his security clearance.

Back in January 2021, when Malley’s appointment had been announced, the New York Post noted that Malley was pushed out of the 2008 Obama campaign after news broke that he’d met with members of the terrorist group Hamas, but he became the Middle East director for President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. And in 2020, he condemned the killing of top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.


Also in January 2021, a dozen former Iran hostages and human-rights activists sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken a letter warning him against recruiting Malley, because it “would send a chilling signal to the dictatorship in Iran that the United States is solely focused on re-entering the Iran nuclear deal, and ignoring its regional terror and domestic crimes against humanity.”

And in March 2022, former Special Advisor to the Secretary of State’s Iran Action Group Gabriel Noronha tweeted: “My former career State Dept., NSC, and EU colleagues are so concerned with the concessions being made by Rob Malley in Vienna that they’ve allowed me to publish some details of the coming deal in the hopes that Congress will act to stop the capitulation.”

Noronha quoted an official on the US team in Vienna who told him, “What’s happening in Vienna is a total disaster,” explaining: “Here’s why: led by Rob Malley, the US has promised to lift sanctions on some of the regime’s worst terrorists and torturers, leading officials in the regime’s WMD infrastructure, and is currently trying to lift sanctions on the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – DI) itself. Let’s dive in. First, Biden’s team is preparing to rescind the Supreme Leaders’ Office Executive Order (E.O. 13876) as soon as this coming Monday, and lift sanctions on nearly every one of the 112 people/entities sanctioned under it, even if they’re sanctioned under other legal authorities.”

Malley told Axios on Thursday that he had “been informed that my security clearance is under review. I have not been provided any further information, but I expect the investigation to be resolved favorably and soon. In the meantime, I am on leave.”

It’s been speculated in Washington that the Biden administration is interested in a much more limited agreement with Iran, including limits on the lifting of sanctions than Malley has been pushing for. As a result, Malley has been absent from Congressional briefing about the Iran deal during May 2023.

The talks that Malley led last summer with Iran collapsed after Tehran kept upping the ante with ever-growing demands, most prominently a guarantee that no future US president would ever again renege on the nuclear deal the way President Trump had done. The Biden team called this “sabotage.”

In July 2022, Envoy Malley warned that Iran already had enough highly enriched uranium on hand to make a bomb, should they choose to do so. “It would take them a matter of weeks,” he said.

Good to know.


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