Iranian claims about suspension of ex-US envoy Rob Malley shake up Washington

Tehran Times publishes ostensible letter informing diplomat that his security clearance is ‘suspended pending an ongoing investigation’ amid ‘serious security concerns’

Robert Malley, the Biden's administration special envoy for Iran, waits to testify about the Iran nuclear deal during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations on Capitol Hill in Washington, on May 25, 2022. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/File)
Robert Malley, the Biden's administration special envoy for Iran, waits to testify about the Iran nuclear deal during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations on Capitol Hill in Washington, on May 25, 2022. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/File)

The suspension of Rob Malley, until recently the US special envoy for Iran, continues to command intense interest from American politicians — and quite a few other parties.

Two months ago, it was reported that Malley had been placed on leave over his alleged mishandling of classified material. But Americans were in for a shock last week when the Tehran Times, a newspaper closely tied to the regime, published Malley’s ostensible letter of suspension from the State Department, dated April 21, 2023.

In the letter, Erin Smart, head of the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, stated that she had “determined that your continued national security eligibility is not clearly consistent with the interests of national security. Your national security eligibility, including your Top Secret security clearance, is suspended pending an ongoing investigation.”

This, she added, was due to receiving “information regarding you that raises serious security concerns” regarding personal conduct, handling of protected information and use of information technology.

The Biden administration has remained mum on the matter, but has not denied the veracity of the report, boosting assessments that the letter is authentic.

The letter’s revelations quickly elicited anger among Republicans on Capitol Hill. Congressman Michael McCaul, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, demanded a probe into how such a politically sensitive document had fallen into the hands of an Iranian paper — and not for the first time.

In the meantime Malley has joined two elite universities in the United States, Yale and Princeton, as a lecturer. He will be teaching diplomacy and international relations at both institutions.

So far Malley has maintained his media silence. On his X (formerly Twitter) account, which was once fairly active, he has added to his biography the sentence: “On leave from State Department.” His most recent tweet, on Saturday, was eulogizing former diplomat and ex-governor Bill Richardson.

Before that, he tweeted on August 10 about Iran, welcoming news of American prisoners who were released from jail to house arrest in Tehran as part of a deal with the US, writing: “I know my colleagues won’t rest until they all return home.”

Among the reasons for Malley’s congenial attitude toward his colleagues in the US State Department: Malley is a close friend of Secretary of State Antony Blinken. They studied at the same prestigious high school in Paris, École Jeannine Manuel.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets with members of Iran’s Civil Society, along with US envoy Rob Malley (back left) at the State Department, in Washington, Oct. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

As one of the closest figures to president Barack Obama, Malley is considered to have played a prominent role in the formation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. When Joe Biden was elected president, Malley returned to his role as liaison to Iran and worked feverishly to bring the deal back to life. There are those in Israel who said he was working at it to the point of distorting reality.

“Malley told a lot of stories,” said a senior Israeli official who was involved in the talks with the US. “He was basically a direct mediator between the US and Iran. Often we didn’t understand which facts formed the basis of the assessments he presented to the State Department. At times [those assessments] appeared out of touch with reality. But he always had the total backing of Blinken.”

Surprisingly, the Iranians themselves have also criticized Malley. The Tehran Times, the newspaper that published the suspension letter, claimed in the same article that Malley is in close contact with prominent Iranian expats in the US. The newspaper pointed out that Malley’s son works at the Quincy Institute think tank, which is headed by Trita Parsi, an Iranian native who is a staunch proponent of the current regime.

US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley and United States’ top negotiator for Iran nuclear talks, center, speaks at the Doha Forum in Qatar, March 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Lujain Jo)

Malley, claimed the Tehran Times, is in close contact with two prominent Iranian expats: Vali Nasr and Ali Vaez. That trio, the newspaper suggested, fueled the protests in the streets of Iran over the past year and attempted to carry out a political revolution through local opposition figures.

Former CENTCOM spokesman Joe Buccino — who was himself suspended from his role earlier this year — was harshly critical of Malley in an op-ed published over the weekend.

“In an aggressive pursuit of a new nuclear deal with Iran, Malley compromised America’s standing across the Middle East,” wrote Buccino on the Real Clear Defense news site. “Malley’s fondness for Iranian hardliners was often hard to understand. Instead of approaching Tehran with an appropriate measure of skepticism and pressure, Malley seemed more interested in appeasement.”

This article first appeared in Hebrew on The Times of Israel’s sister site Zman Yisrael.

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