It is for good reason that Iran is a global, hot-button issue. Lives literally depend on how world powers deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, its support of global terrorism, its regional designs and its pledge to annihilate Western adversaries, including the United States and the State of Israel.
The U.S. entry into the Iran deal in 2015 provoked strong reactions, pro and con. Political relationships got frayed. An extraordinary amount of ink was spilled in analyzing the Obama administration’s entry into the deal, and the Trump administration’s withdrawal from it.
President Biden has committed to pursue reengagement with Iran — including reentry in the nuclear deal — while pledging to do so with a better understanding of certain issues that were not adequately addressed the first time around. Biden has designated career diplomat Rob Malley as his new Iran envoy.
If you don’t know who Malley is, you can be forgiven. He was one of the key negotiators of the original Iran deal. And depending upon who you ask, he either “has a long track record of sympathy for the Iranian regime and animus towards Israel” (Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.) or is trusted and admired: “You can’t do better than Rob Malley. Whatever Rob Malley is being considered for, I’d be supportive” (Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.).
Like the original Iran agreement, Malley is not perfect. He is by most accounts a solid and experienced diplomatic professional who has rankled some in the pro-Israel community. For those who oppose the Biden administration’s desire to return to international diplomacy in order to contain Iran, Malley is the proxy for the anti-Iran venom. Thus, for example, the right-wing ZOA declared last week: “Malley has a long, alarming record of anti-Israel hostility and appeasement of Iran, Hamas, the PLO, Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and Syria.” But according to a supporter quoted in Politico, “Rob is just a vehicle for hawks in Congress and the region to try to bludgeon and coerce the new president out of a policy he was elected to implement.”
While Malley would not have been our choice for the envoy position, Biden is fully entitled to make the appointment. Elections have consequences, and Biden and the Democrats have a voter mandate to pursue their agenda.
More importantly, Malley’s appointment does not preordain any result. As the Iran envoy, he will not act alone. Although he will be a senior administration representative, he will still report to the secretary of state, need to follow guidance from the president and will be answerable to Congress. And of course, given the global significance of any actions taken in relation to Iran, every utterance he makes concerning Iran and any agreements he proposes to have the U.S. enter will be subject to careful scrutiny and analysis.
We wish Malley much success in his work. We will, however, be joining those who will be watching carefully.