Biden's Iran Envoy To Give Classified Briefing to Congress After GOP Pressure

Robert Malley has avoided Congress during nuclear talks with Iran

Rob Malley (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
February 7, 2022

Biden administration Iran envoy Robert Malley is scheduled to brief House lawmakers for the first time in a classified setting on Tuesday following a pressure campaign from Republican foreign policy leaders, according to a copy of the hearing invitation obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

This will be the first time Malley has appeared before Congress since he took office and started diplomatic talks with Iran aimed at securing a revamped version of the 2015 nuclear deal. Malley's appearance before Congress signals that the administration is on the cusp of reentering the contested deal and providing Tehran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief.

The notification on the hearing, which the invitation describes as a "members-only classified briefing on Iranian nuclear negotiations," comes just days after the Biden administration unwound nuclear sanctions on Tehran that will permit countries such as Russia and China to build out portions of Iran's nuclear infrastructure. The decision to grant these sanctions waivers drew fierce criticism from Iran hawks on Capitol Hill and is likely to take center stage during the closed-door briefing. Malley will testify over a "secure video" link from Vienna, where negotiations have been taking place, according to the notification.

Republicans have been pressuring Malley to testify on the nuclear talks for more than a year—overtures that were repeatedly rebuffed until this week. The latest request came on Friday, when Rep. Claudia Tenney (R., N.Y.) led eight other lawmakers in a letter to the State Department that demanded Malley appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as the Free Beacon first reported.

While lawmakers such as Tenney say they appreciate the upcoming opportunity to grill Malley, the classified nature of the briefing is already drawing pushback. The information presented to lawmakers will be kept from the public, leaving questions about what the Biden administration is offering Iran as a firm deal begins to materialize. Malley is also scheduled on Wednesday to conduct a classified briefing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"Rob Malley has yet to appear before the full Foreign Affairs Committee, either publicly or in private, to answer our questions and explain to the American people why sanctions are not being fully enforced on Iran," Tenney told the Free Beacon on Monday. "A classified briefing is a start, but it's not enough. Rob Malley works for the American people, and he should answer to them as well. That's why I’m going to continue pressing for public hearings. Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken committed to having an open and transparent relationship with Congress and it's vitally important that he upholds that commitment."

The State Department maintains that Malley has been in close contact with members of Congress.

A State Department spokesman, speaking only on background, said Malley "remains deeply committed to continued close engagement with Congress in a bipartisan manner as Iran policy continues to develop. He and his staff continue to hold routine briefings with Members and their staff, at both the classified and unclassified levels and remain available and committed to doing so."

The briefings with lawmakers also come amid reports of dissension among the U.S. negotiating team. Richard Nephew was reportedly axed from Malley's squad after he advocated a tougher line in the talks. This report prompted Tenney and her colleagues to accuse Malley of "forcing out those who disagree with him."

The State Department disputed this accusation, telling the Free Beacon, "Allegations that Special Envoy Malley has fired or sidelined any member of his staff are false. Richard Nephew is no longer serving as a deputy special envoy for Iran, but he remains a highly valued State Department employee. Personnel moves are very common a year into an administration."

Republicans are also pushing back against the Biden administration’s decision late last week to grant nuclear waivers for Iran. The sanctions allow foreign countries, primarily Russia and China, to partner with Iran's civilian nuclear sector without facing American sanctions.

"At a time when Iran is targeting the United States and our allies across the Middle East, the Biden administration is dismantling sanctions to allow them to build up their nuclear program," Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), said during the weekend. "Along with unfreezing billions of dollars and looking the other way at Iranian sanctions-busting, restoring civil nuclear waivers for Iran is just one more step the Biden administration is taking toward reviving a weaker version of the catastrophic Obama-Iran nuclear deal."