US President Joe Biden on Friday named Robert Malley, who represented Washington during negotiations for the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, as his top envoy for Iran.
He will be tasked with seeking stronger concessions from the regime in return for the US rejoining the nuclear deal and the easing of sanctions.
Malley’s appointment was welcomed by Arab American leaders, who highlighted his strong record of direct involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process under former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Malley was instrumental in organizing the Camp David summit in 2000 to revive the Oslo Accords.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Biden is building a strong team to deal with Iran and that Malley will be the point person in seeking a “longer and stronger” nuclear deal than the UN-backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was signed in 2015 by the five permanent members of the Security Council — the US, the UK, China, Russia and France — plus Germany and the EU.
President Donald Trump withdrew the US from that agreement in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. His decision was applauded by leaders of the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, which had provided evidence that Tehran was continuing to expand its nuclear capabilities despite the JCPOA.
Ned Price, Blinken’s spokesman, told the Arab News that the administration is building “a dedicated team, drawing from clear-eyed experts with a diversity of views.” He said Malley “brings to the position a track record of success negotiating constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. The secretary is confident he and his team will be able to do that once again.”
Price added: “If Iran comes back into full compliance with its obligations under the JCPOA, the United States would do the same,” and emphasized that Biden will “use (the JCPOA) as a platform to build a longer and stronger agreement” that also addresses other areas of concern about Iranian activities.
But he cautioned: “We are a long way from that point as Iran is out of compliance on a number of fronts, and there are many steps in the process that we will need to evaluate. We will coordinate closely with our allies and partners, as well as with Congress.”
American Arab leaders who have worked with Malley spoke highly of his “fairness” and “balance” when he worked on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
Jim Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington, who worked closely with Malley during both the Clinton and Obama administrations, said the envoy brings “professionalism and clarity” to any issue he addresses.
“He is one of the most knowledgeable people we have had in that position in the 40 years I have been dealing with the White House and State Department,” said Zogby. “No one is more knowledgeable on the Middle East, and is more balanced or fair, than Rob Malley.
“His engagement in the (Oslo) peace process was significant because he was pushing back on those who were more critical of (Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser) Arafat in the negotiations. When former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak wrote a piece blaming Arafat for the failure of the peace talks, Rob Malley wrote a piece very strenuously arguing Barak was wrong. It wasn’t a polite rebuttal, it was a strong rebuttal and that took courage.”
Malley attended Yale University, was a 1984 Rhodes Scholar, and earned a law degree from Harvard.
His father, Simon, was the son of Syrian Jews who fled to Egypt, where he was born and worked as a journalist. His mother, Barbara Silverstein, was a member of the UN delegation from the Algerian National Liberation Front. Simon Malley fled Egypt for France, where he published a leftist magazine until he was expelled for criticism of Western colonialism and Israeli policies.