US President Joe Biden has named Robert Malley as special US envoy for Iran, giving the veteran diplomat a leading role in one of the major foreign policy challenges facing the new administration.
Malley was a key member of former President Barack Obama’s team that negotiated the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran and world powers, an agreement that former president Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 despite strong opposition from Washington’s European allies.
Malley will report directly to newly appointed Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“Secretary 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.
When Malley’s name first surfaced in news reports as a leading candidate for the post, he drew criticism from some Republicans and pro-Israel groups that he would be soft on Iran and tough on Israel. But a number of foreign policy veterans praised 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, after pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, reimposed crippling economic sanctions.
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, 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, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was struck by Iran and six major powers and committed Iran to restricting its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief from the United States and others. Israel and Gulf Arab states strongly opposed the deal as not stringent enough on Tehran.