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Deputy Iran envoy’s strong statement hollow sans action, experts say

"Washington has yet to explain why it has not refrozen $16 billion it made available to Iran, enforced oil sanctions or assisted the Iranian people in their fight against the regime," said Andrea Stricker of FDD.

A military museum in Iran in 2019. Credit: saeediex/Shutterstock.
A military museum in Iran in 2019. Credit: saeediex/Shutterstock.

Abram Paley, deputy special envoy for Iran at the U.S. State Department, raised eyebrows when he posted on social media that the Islamic Republic “has brought only violence and corruption at home and abroad,” instead of “embracing peace and prosperity.”

“To the Iranian people: The United States will continue to support you and work with partners to counter the regime’s support for terrorism, which comes only at your expense,” Paley posted on Feb. 10.

The tone of the post seemed to be more critical of the Iranian regime than was the special envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, who has landed at Princeton and Yale universities after being suspended while he is investigated for his handling of classified documents.

“Paley’s statement was strong, but unless it is backed up by an actual Iran strategy and change in policy by the administration, his words are meaningless,” Andrea Stricker, deputy director and research fellow in the nonproliferation and biodefense program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS.

“Washington has yet to explain why it has not refrozen $16 billion it made available to Iran, enforced oil sanctions or assisted the Iranian people in their fight against the regime,” she added, “even as Tehran’s proxies are killing U.S. troops, murdering their own people, backing Hamas against Israel, disrupting global shipping and advancing its nuclear program.”

“Strong statement but needs to be backed up by an effective maximum support program for the Iranian people,” wrote Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of FDD.

Gazelle Sharmahd, of Southern California, has been calling publicly for the Iranian regime to release her father, Jamshid Sharmahd, an activist who has vocally opposed the regime.

“As the daughter of a U.S. national kidnapped and held hostage by the Islamic regime in Iran, I am glad that the Office of the Special Envoy for Iran has finally acknowledged that the Islamic Republic is suppressing its own population and is breaching their human rights systematically,” she wrote. “Malley would have never done that.”

“But saying the administration will ‘continue’ supporting Iranians means that they have previously done so, which could not have been further from the truth,” Sharmahd added. “The administration has not even supported U.S. nationals like Jimmy Sharmahd and cruelly abandoned him on death row during a dangerous execution wave. His dossier should be prioritized when the State Department deals with the Iran regime, not last, not be forgotten.”

She added that her family has asked the Biden administration to stop “repeated payments” to the terrorist regime and “legitimizing its leaders through visas to move freely to the United States, and request that they stop the execution of freedom fighters and move my father from secret solitary confinement for 1,290 days immediately to a safe location, be examined by neutral medical staff and freed before any other talks would be considered.”

Mikhail Ulyanov, the Russian representative to the international organizations in Vienna, criticized Paley’s statement. “Regrettable that the United States is substituting diplomacy towards Iran with cheap propaganda,” he wrote. “One of the biggest Washington’s mistakes is the refusal to finalize the Vienna Talks on the restoration of the JCPOA,” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“The lack of diplomacy may have dangerous consequences,” he added.

Who is Abram Paley?

On Aug. 14, Vedant Patel, principal deputy spokesman at the State Department, was asked at a press briefing about the Twitter account for the U.S. envoy to Iran.

“You changed the picture of this Twitter account. Does that mean that Rob Malley has been dismissed from the State Department, or is there any view that Rob Malley will not come back to the office for a long time?” a reporter asked.

“I have no specifics to offer other than what you’ve heard me and my colleagues say previously, which is that Rob Malley is on leave,” Patel said. “Abram Paley is leading the department’s work in this area, and I will leave it at that.”

Paley does not appear to have a biography on an official U.S. government website, nor does he seem to have a LinkedIn profile.

Someone by the same name, of New Haven, Conn., was a member of the New York University 2004-05 men’s swimming and diving roster. That Abram Paley was listed at 6-foot-1-inch, 190 pounds and a sophomore who had attended Hamden High School.

An Abram Wil Paley submitted a master’s thesis titled “Non-state actors in international politics: A theoretical framework” at Texas A&M University in December 2008.

The word “Iran” doesn’t appear in the thesis, but a mini-bio at the end of the paper states: “Abram Wil Paley received his bachelor of arts in individualized studies from New York University in May 2007. He entered the political science program at Texas A&M in August 2007 and received his master of arts in international relations in December 2008. His research interests include political methodology, non-state actors in international politics, game theory, diplomacy and conflict studies.”

Testifying before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee on Dec. 13, Paley said that “the Biden administration views Iran as an adversary and the leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

“This resolve in countering Iran has been on full display, especially since the horrific Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, the subsequent attacks by Iranian-backed proxies on U.S. personnel and facilities in the region, and the Iran-enabled Houthi attacks on Israel and commercial shipping in the Red Sea,” he said.

“We view Iran as complicit in Hamas’s barbaric terrorist attack on Israel, and the attacks against us and our interests by its proxies, and we will continue to hold it accountable,” he added.

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