Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group speaks during the Forum MED Mediterranean Dialogues summit in Rome, Italy on November 30, 2017. (Photo: Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group speaks during the Forum MED Mediterranean Dialogues summit in Rome, Italy on November 30, 2017. (Photo: Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Progressives Applaud Rob Malley, Key Nuclear Deal Negotiator, as Biden's Special Envoy for Iran

"Malley should be celebrated for his ability to understand how adversaries see problems and find common ground, for this is the art of diplomacy."

Jessica Corbett

Progressives on Friday welcomed the addition of Robert Malley, a Middle East expert and Iran nuclear deal negotiator, to the Biden administration as a positive step away from the previous U.S. administration's hostile rhetoric and policies toward Tehran, which often generated fears of a hot war.

"President Biden will have a tough road ahead... But with Rob Malley helming his Iran policy, he will have exactly the kind of veteran diplomat needed to untie the Gordian knot of U.S.-Iran relations."
—Jamal Abdi, NIAC
Following reporting on Thursday from multiple media outlets, both the White House and the State Department confirmed on Friday that Malley will serve as President Joe Biden's special U.S. envoy for Iran—in spite of opposition from hawkish critics.

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

A veteran of the Clinton and Obama administrations, Malley played a key role in 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Biden vowed as a candidate that he would return the U.S. to that historic pact, from which former President Donald Trump withdrew in May 2018.

In addition to ditching the nuclear deal, the Trump administration ratcheted up tensions with Tehran via a "maximum pressure campaign" that featured devastating economic sanctions. The ex-president also ordered the assassination Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, which a top U.N. expert says violated international law.

Especially given the recent relationship between Washington and and Tehran, Malley's appointment was applauded as progress toward peace and diplomacy.

"Rob is a great pick, and it's an encouraging sign of how the Washington foreign policy consensus has shifted in a pro-diplomacy direction. Rob has played a big role in helping shift it," said Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), according to CNN. Malley advised Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign.

Jamal Abdi, president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), issued a statement praising the pick as "a major step in putting U.S. diplomacy back in the hands of genuine professionals," adding that "Malley is a consummate diplomat of impeccable skill and humility, well respected by ally and adversary alike."

"His track record of skillful diplomacy makes him well-situated to reverse the Trump administration's dangerous escalatory spiral with Iran and chart a path to non-violent solutions to disputes with Iran," Abdi said, noting that he "joins several other Biden national security appointees who have extensive experience in dealing with Iran."

Abdi also highlighted Malley's potential beyond reviving the nuclear deal:

His appointment today brings newfound hope for the American and other dual nationals languishing in Iranian prisons, whose release must be a vital priority. Malley's deep experience on other Middle Eastern issues also creates opportunities for the U.S. to facilitate political solutions to the catastrophic Saudi war in Yemen and other regional crises.

Malley should be celebrated for his ability to understand how adversaries see problems and find common ground, for this is the art of diplomacy. The coordinated smear campaign to scuttle his nomination was not just an ugly attempt to besmirch his character, but to obstruct the very potential for diplomacy under President Biden. American foreign policy for too long has been militarily muscular but diplomatically weak. This was exemplified by the previous administration's militaristic "take it or leave it" outlook on the world, an approach that has time and again led to foreign misadventures costing trillions of dollars and countless lives.

Now more than ever, America needs to invest in its diplomatic corps. NIAC commends President Biden for standing with Malley and opening the door for serious diplomacy with Iran. President Biden will have a tough road ahead to bring tensions with Iran back from the brink and revitalize American diplomacy. But with Rob Malley helming his Iran policy, he will have exactly the kind of veteran diplomat needed to untie the Gordian knot of U.S.-Iran relations.

Jason Rezaian served as the Washington Post's correspondent in Tehran from 2012 to 2016 and spent 544 days imprisoned by Iranian authorities. As he detailed in an opinion piece for the newspaper on Friday, the controversy over Malley's inclusion in the administration kicked off last, when a group called the National Union for Democracy in Iran (NUFDI) published an open letter urging Blinken, who was not yet confirmed, to reconsider Malley, implying he would be too soft on Iran.

Notably, three former hostages of the Iranian government signed on to the NUFDI letter. "I feel a special kinship with other former hostages of Iran and choose not to question their political positions," Rezaian wrote. "But I did feel a responsibility to express my concern that their public visibility was being used by a group of people who, after easy access to the Trump administration, suddenly find themselves looking into the halls of power from the outside."

Rezaian also argued that "despite inevitable objections from Republicans, Biden should move forward with his Iran plans with confidence and transparency," writing:

He can start by reiterating all the ways the nuclear deal was working before Trump withdrew the United States from it, and how he plans to build off of it to address other issues with Iran, especially human rights abuses. Critically, the Biden administration shouldn't be shy about making the failure of Trump's "maximum pressure" policy a core component of its plan. In all instances, Biden officials should err toward over-explaining to get their message out.

One of those messages, according to NIAC senior research fellow Assal Rad, comes from Malley's selection—signaling Biden's administration "is serious about diplomacy."

"It's also an indication that the smear tactics of the Trump era are useless," Rad said, adding that "now opponents of diplomacy will be forced to make actual arguments."

Friday was a "good day for peace advocates," Rad concluded, and a "bad day" for opponents of diplomacy.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Amid Existential Threat to Reproductive Rights, Congress Urged to Act

"It's the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and if we don't fight like hell it could very well be the last," said one campaigner, who called on U.S. lawmakers to pass the Women's Health Protection Act.

Brett Wilkins ·


Black Mississippi State Senators Stage Walkout as Critical Race Theory Ban Passed

"We cannot continue to stumble into the future backwards," said one Black senator who taught for 33 years. "That's what this bill does."

Brett Wilkins ·


Buddhist Monk and Peace Activist Thích Nhất Hạnh Dead at 95

"He inspired so many good people to dedicate themselves to working for a more just and compassionate world."

Jessica Corbett ·


Draft Order Shows Trump Considered Using Military to Seize Voting Machines

"This was part of the records that Trump was fighting to keep from the January 6th committee," one government watchdog noted.

Brett Wilkins ·


Groups Warn US Lawmakers Against Fueling 'New Cold War' With China

A policy of hostility toward Beijing, says a global justice advocate, has "become a convenient excuse for pushing a corporate, militarist agenda."

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo