Biden taps Rob Malley as Iran envoy, going against objections from Republicans

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Biden taps Rob Malley as Iran envoy, going against objections from Republicans
Rob Malley, CEO of the International Crisis Group, has been tapped to be Biden's Iran envoy.Riccardo De Luca/Getty Images
  • President Joe Biden has tapped Rob Malley, a conflict resolution expert, to be his Iran envoy.
  • Malley, a former Obama administration official, will lead efforts to revitalize the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
  • GOP critics of Malley say he's too soft on Tehran, but veteran US officials and diplomats disagree.

President Joe Biden on Friday selected Rob Malley as envoy to Iran, the White House announced, despite criticism and pushback from congressional Republicans over the appointment.

Malley, who served as a top Middle East advisor under the Obama administration, will spearhead Biden's efforts to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. He played a key role in the negotiations behind the landmark pact, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which President Donald Trump withdrew the US from in May 2018.

Malley "brings to the position a track record of success negotiating constraints on Iran's nuclear program," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement, adding that Secretary of State Antony Blinken is "confident" Malley will "be able to do that once again."

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Republicans who applauded Trump for abandoning the 2015 deal have sought to portray Malley, a conflict resolution expert who's currently the CEO of the International Crisis Group, as too sympathetic to Tehran and anti-Israel.

GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, known for his hawkish stance toward Iran, recently tweeted that Malley "has a long track record of sympathy for the Iranian regime & animus towards Israel."

"The ayatollahs wouldn't believe their luck if he is selected," Cotton added.

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But congressional Democrats, veteran US diplomats, and former US officials have pushed against this characterization and portrayed Malley as the ideal person to revive the JCPOA.

"I think he will be an amazing choice," Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna, an increasingly influential voice on foreign policy in the House, told Politico of Malley.

Hundreds of foreign policy professionals signed a statement in support of Biden tapping Malley for the role, which does not require Senate approval.

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Trump's decision to pull the US from the JCPOA pushed tensions between Washington, DC, and Tehran to historic heights and sparked fears of a new war in the Middle East.

The deal was designed to restrict Iran's ability to develop a nuclear weapon in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Critics of the pact, including Trump, felt it didn't go far enough to hamstring Iran's nuclear capabilities.

Iran remained in compliance with the JCPOA's restrictions for roughly a year after Trump announced he was withdrawing from it, a move that was decried by US allies. But as the Trump administration engaged in a "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran, hitting it with relentless sanctions in an effort to squeeze Tehran into negotiating a more stringent deal, the Iranian government began to take steps away from the 2015 pact.

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After Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani, Tehran effectively abandoned the deal altogether.

Iran has said it will return to the JCPOA if the US agrees to lift sanctions, but the Biden administration has signaled the deal can only be revived if the Iranians return to full compliance. The future of the deal remains uncertain, and Malley has his work cut out for him.

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