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Questions about the Malley affair

Who was the Biden administration trying to protect?

U.S. Special Representative for Iran Robert Malley. Source: Screenshot.
U.S. Special Representative for Iran Robert Malley. Source: Screenshot.
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East. She is the author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Terrorist Network (2011).  

Many questions have arisen following the recent disclosure that U.S. Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley had his security clearances revoked and was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into his handling of classified information.

We do not know the nature of the classified material that Malley allegedly mishandled, nor, should the allegations prove accurate, why he did so. We may never know.

Malley might have met an Iranian official or someone directly or indirectly connected to the regime at a bar or restaurant, written a note and passed it along. These are things so discreet that they might forever be held under lock and key. They may never come up in a congressional hearing.

However, we do know certain things:

We know that on March 17, 2015, shortly after the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) was concluded, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Iranian Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA) by a vote of 400-24 in the House and 98-1 in the Senate. This federal law specifically mandates that the executive branch should keep Congress informed of any diplomatic initiatives towards or negotiations with Iran concerning its nuclear program, including new or amended agreements.

The INARA also specifies that Congress must be informed about Iranian compliance with the JCPOA. We now know that Iran is non-compliant. For one, the agreement specifically forbids the export of drones and Iran has been selling drones to Russia for use in Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine.

The JCPOA capped Iran’s uranium enrichment at 3.67%. In February, reports stated that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found particles of uranium enriched to 83.7% at Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility. This means Iran is a matter of days or even hours away from the 90% enrichment necessary for a nuclear bomb.

We also know that secret talks have been held between the U.S. and Iran in Oman, as confirmed by Iranian Foreign Minister Nasser Kanaani.

Leaked information on this “mini-deal” indicates that the agreement would allow Iran to enrich uranium to 60%, which is at most a week or two from weaponization.

Furthermore, 2.76% of frozen Iranian assets have just been released via Iraq in order to pay gas and electric debts to Iran. The U.S. has also asked South Korea to release approximately $7 billion in frozen Iranian funds. There is no chance that at least some of this money will not end up in the hands of Iran’s terrorist proxies around the world.

The reported level of “acceptable” enrichment would give the Iranians leverage to blackmail the world. They can always threaten to open the spigot and enrich to 90%. Thus, Iran would have the power to unleash its terrorist proxies, commit acts of war, kidnap dissidents and assassinate American officials such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former National Security Adviser John Bolton.

This leads us to ask: What exactly did Malley offer his Iranian interlocutors? To what extent was the White House behind such offers? Did Malley act on his own?

While the agreements might have been verbal rather than written, verbal agreements are agreements nonetheless. Like all agreements, they depend on trust. Ironically, the Iranian people themselves have no trust in the Iranian regime. How could they trust the regime when it has arrested over 20,000 protestors over the past year, murdered 500 demonstrators and hanged 354 people this year?

Moreover, according to the INARA, any agreement with Iran, written or oral, requires congressional oversight. Thus, we need an open and public congressional debate on whatever agreements or concessions may have been made by the administration.

Aside from the details of the information Malley may have mishandled, we must ask why the administration has been covering up for him. It appears that Malley has been on leave for several weeks. When he last testified at congressional hearings, the administration did not reveal that his security clearances had been revoked, saying Malley was on leave due to the illness of a close family member.

Why the secrecy on the part of the Biden administration? Why did officials believe it was important to deceive Congress and whitewash the fact that Malley had his security clearance revoked? Why was there a cover-up and who was the administration trying to protect?

Let’s hope it was not the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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