Top Iranian Official Celebrates Biden’s Rumored Iran Envoy

Rob Malley
Rob Malley (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
January 25, 2021

A top Iranian official is celebrating President Joe Biden's rumored selection of Robert Malley as his envoy to Iran, offering praise for the new administration as it seeks to reenter the 2015 nuclear accord.

Hesamodin Ashna, a senior adviser to Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, "welcomed Robert Malley's selection," saying late last week that it "conveys a clear message about an efficient approach to resolving the conflict quickly and effectively," according to a translation of his Farsi-language remarks carried in Iran’s state-controlled press.

Iran is throwing its support behind Malley after reports emerged last week in the Jewish press that he is the frontrunner to be the next envoy, a position last held by veteran GOP foreign policy hand Elliott Abrams. The Biden administration has not confirmed Malley’s appointment and the State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Tehran’s embrace of Malley—who served in the Obama administration’s White House National Security Council from 2014 to 2017—marks a significant shift in the country’s approach to relations with Washington, D.C. Iran refused all meetings with Trump administration officials, demanding sanctions relief first, and restarted its nuclear weapons program, which continues to progress. In addition to his support for diplomacy with Iran, Malley played a lead role in shaping the Obama administration’s Syria policy, which drew widespread criticism as the humanitarian situation in the country deteriorated.

Leading Republican lawmakers have already expressed opposition to Malley, saying he would immediately unwind the Trump administration’s tough sanctions campaign and seek to offer the Islamic Republic access to much-needed cash. As the Iran envoy, Malley would not need confirmation by Congress.

"Rob Malley has a sad record of standing with human-rights-abusing dictators like Assad and Iran, and terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah," Rep. Joe Wilson (R., S.C.), who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, told the Washington Free Beacon. "He was the architect of a Syria policy which left half a million people killed, and an Iran deal which gave the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps] a hundred billion dollars."

Malley has been "constant in his appeasement of the Iranian regime including often adopting their talking points," Wilson said, adding that it is no surprise that "Tasnim News, the official newspaper of the IRGC, has praised the news of his possible appointment."

Malley’s appointment also has been met with criticism by Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-American academic who was wrongly imprisoned in Iran for more than three years before being freed by the Trump administration in 2019. Wang said that Malley "played no positive role" in securing his release during his time in the Obama White House.

As the Biden administration’s Iran envoy, Malley would be in charge of conducting diplomacy with Iran. Malley is no stranger to talks with adversarial regimes. He held unauthorized talks with the Iranian-backed terror group Hamas in 2008, which prompted his firing from Barack Obama’s campaign.

Malley was a frequent critic of the Trump administration’s hardline policy on Iran. In a 2019 interview conducted in French, Malley claimed that Iran’s paranoia of the West is justified. "They’re convinced that there’s a conspiracy," he said, adding that "the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel are doing everything to weaken the Iranians.… They know there’s this plot by the United States to topple the regime."

Malley also has been critical of Israel and defended the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah, as well as other violent Middle East factions. He has advocated in favor of U.S. diplomacy with Hamas and was an adviser to J Street, the far-left advocacy group known for its criticism of Israel.

Malley has referred to Jewish homes built in the West Bank as "colonies" and has called for Israel to completely halt its construction of homes in territories likely to remain in the Jewish state as part of any future peace agreement. He also suggested in a 2001 interview that the Palestinians should not halt violence in exchange for only an end to Israeli construction in contested territories. "For the Palestinians, to accept today a cessation of hostilities while gaining only an end to the Israeli encirclement of their territory, that means that they fought four months to return to the preceding status quo," he said.

During his time in the Obama administration, Malley hosted at the White House Seyed Mousavian, a former Iranian diplomat and head of Iran's national security council.

Len Khodorkovsky, former deputy assistant secretary at the State Department, said Malley would signal a significant break from the Trump administration's efforts to pressure Tehran into rolling back its nuclear program.

"If the Biden administration wants to signal its surrender to Iran, it should hire Rob Malley," he said.

In touting Malley's potential appointment, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency slammed U.S. opponents of the pick, including Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.).

"It’s deeply troubling that President Biden would consider appointing Rob Malley to direct Iran policy," Cotton said on Twitter. "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."

Malley is also backed by Code Pink, the progressive antiwar group. In its endorsement of Malley, Code Pink said he "understands that reentering the JCPOA must be undertaken swiftly and will not be easy." The group accused "a motley crew of warhawks" of trying to derail the appointment.

Kaveh Shahrooz, an Iranian dissident and Toronto-based senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, told the Free Beacon that Malley has never used his government posting to "advocate for human rights in Iran or for a strong deal that severely limits the Iranian regime's nuclear capabilities."

Update 4:32 p.m.: This post has been updated with comment from Khodorkovsky.