Uncertainty Looms Sidelining: The sidelining of a key US official has heightened uncertainty about the Iran nuclear talks. US officials worry that Iran may have enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear bomb in weeks. Rob Malley, who revived the Iran nuclear deal, is on unpaid leave. After a classified material investigation, his security clearance was suspended earlier this year.
During the investigation, Biden administration diplomat Rob Malley led Iran nuclear talks. He was denied classified information during this time. Malley resigned in June, hoping for a swift and positive investigation. On Friday, Deputy Envoy Abram Paley took over the Office of the Special Envoy for Iran’s Twitter account. The State Department website no longer lists Malley as Iran’s Special Representative.
Rob Malley’s exclusion casts doubt on Iran’s nuclear deal. As Tehran enriches uranium and the US and Iran prepare for important elections next year, an agreement is urgent. Iranian parliamentarian elections and US presidential elections are scheduled. These elections may be influenced by nuclear talks and the fate of detained Americans in Iran.
Rob Malley helped create the 2015 Iran nuclear deal during the Obama administration. Trump ended the deal in 2018. Malley was reinstated as Iran envoy in 2021 after Biden’s election and led negotiations to restore the agreement.
By September, negotiations stalled over several issues. The Iranian regime suppressed domestic protests and sold drones to Russia for the Ukraine conflict, worsening relations.
Rob Malley was controversial before becoming Iran envoy. He left Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 after meeting with Hamas members at the International Crisis Group (ICG). Anti-regime Iranians, US conservatives, and Israel supporters have accused him of favoring the Islamic Republic and harshly criticizing Israel.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani declined to comment on Malley’s sidelining, saying they do not interfere in other nations’ affairs. In Iranian media, retired diplomat Javed Gurban Oghli said Malley’s pro-Iran stance had alienated Israel-friendly lobbies.
Former State Department official Gabriel Noronha blamed Malley’s approach for the situation. Malley initially suspended sanctions to build goodwill with Iran, rejecting the idea that pressure would create leverage. Iran believed its economy and nuclear program gave it more leverage over the US. Malley failed to impress the Iranians, hurting his negotiation chances.
ICG Iran Project Director Ali Vaez disagreed, saying Malley’s actions supported the US administration’s national security strategy. Vaez stressed that the Biden administration supported a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear crisis regardless of Malley. He challenged those who accuse the administration of being soft on Iran by noting that Iran is under more sanctions than when President Biden took office.
US-Iran talks continue despite Rob Malley’s exile. Acting Special Envoy Abram Paley has taken over, and Brett McGurk, a US National Security Council official with extensive Middle East policy experience, is leading efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program. After Biden took office, McGurk, the National Security Council’s Middle East and North African coordinator, negotiated re-entry into the Iran nuclear agreement. Malley may have a different strategy.
The administration continues to negotiate a limited Iran deal despite Rob Malley’s departure. Regardless of personnel changes, the Biden administration believes that only a diplomatic solution can resolve the Iran nuclear crisis. The Iran nuclear talks will depend on future developments.