Robert Malley: Appeaser Extraordinaire

The long disturbing record of Biden’s Special Envoy for Iran.

During his first few days as President, Joe Biden named Robert Malley as his U.S. Special Envoy for Iran. Malley has a long history of antipathy toward Israel, as well as a profoundly deep reserve of patience with Iran and other enemies of the Jewish state. Most notably, he helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal of 2015 — known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — and he subsequently opposed the Trump Administration’s “maximum pressure” sanctions against Tehran. From the start of his tenure with the Biden Administration, Malley called for the U.S. to return to the JCPOA as swiftly as possible, and to fully dismantle the sanctions that Trump had reimposed on Iran.   

Talks between the Biden Administration and Iran began formally in Vienna in April 2021, but were paused shortly before Iran’s presidential elections in June. Then, in late November, Tehran dispatched to Vienna a new negotiating team whose diplomats made more demands and offered fewer concessions than had their predecessors. By December 3, the talks had stalled. Six days later, Malley, conveying the Biden Administration’s desperate desire to strike some sort of agreement, stated that U.S. negotiators would be willing to sit down with their Iranian counterparts “at any time and any place” – preferably “face-to-face.” America, said Malley, was “prepared to get back into the deal as soon as possible – as soon as Iran is.” “Then,” he added, “we would lift all of the sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA.”

But as of today, no deal with Iran seems to be on the horizon. As recently as March 27, Malley admitted to having little faith that the JCPOA could be revived anytime soon. “I can't be confident it is imminent,” he lamented, noting how hard it is to bridge the gap.”

Americans can only hope and pray that Malley and his cohorts are not successful at reviving the JCPOA – or anything even remotely resembling it. Consider some of the highly troubling elements of the original agreement:

  • Iran was permitted to keep and operate more than 5,000 nuclear centrifuges, the machines necessary for enriching uranium to the degree necessary for the production of nuclear weapons.
  • Iran received $150 billion in revenue from sanctions relief, even though Obama-Biden acknowledged that Iran would likely use some portion of that money to fund its military and terrorist activities.
  • Iran was prohibited from purchasing weapons from other countries for five years, and from buying missile technology for eight years. But there were two enormously significant exceptions: Russia and China could continue to make weapons deals with Iran.
  • Iran was given the discretion to block international inspectors from its military installations.
  • Only inspectors from countries that had diplomatic relations with Iran would be given access to Iranian nuclear sites. Thus, there would be no American inspectors.
  • Sanctions were lifted on critical parts of Iran’s military, including a previously existing travel ban against Qasem Suleimani, leader of the terrorist Quds force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
  • Iran would not be required to renounce terrorism against the United States, as the Obama-Biden Administration deemed such an expectation “unrealistic.”
  • Iran would not be required to affirm its “clear and unambiguous … recognition of Israel’s right to exist” — a requirement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pleaded for.
  • Whatever restrictions were placed on Iran’s nuclear program, would expire — due to so-called “sunset clauses” — at various times over the ensuing 5 to 11 years.

In light of the fact that the man who helped negotiate the JCPOA monstrosity is today a key official in the Biden Administration, it is well worth exploring more deeply who this man actually is.

Malley was born in 1963 and lived in France from 1969-1980. His mother—a native New Yorker—worked for the United Nations delegation of the National Liberation Front, the leftist, anti-American political party that led the independence movement in Algeria in the 1950s and early ’60s. His father, the late Simon Malley, was a key figure in the Egyptian Communist Party. The elder Malley was bitterly anti-Israel; a confidante of PLO leader Yasser Arafat; an inveterate critic of “Western imperialism”; a supporter of various leftist revolutionary “liberation movements,” particularly the Palestinian cause; and a beneficiary of Soviet funding. He also published a radical magazine about Africa, titled Afrique-Asie, which supported a variety of leftist “liberation movements” as well as the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Robert Malley earned a J.D. at Harvard Law School, which he attended at the same time as Barack Obama. Malley subsequently served as: a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; a member of the U.S. National Security Council from 1994-96; National Security Advisor Sandy Berger’s executive assistant from 1996-98; and President Bill Clinton’s Special Assistant for Arab-Israeli Affairs from 1998-2001. In July 2000, Malley was a member of the U.S. peace team that participated in the Camp David Summit between Bill Clinton (who brokered the talks), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. The talks ended without an agreement.

Malley has written numerous controversial articles—some of which were co-authored with Hussein Agha, a former advisor to Arafat—blaming Israel and exonerating Arafat for the failure at Camp David. For instance, in a July 2001 op-ed (titled “Fictions About the Failure at Camp David”) which was published in the The New York Times, Malley alleged that Israeli—not Palestinian—inflexibility had caused the previous year’s peace talks to fail.

Malley’s account of the Camp David negotiations is entirely inconsistent with the recollections of the key figures who participated in those talks, most notably then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, U.S. President Bill Clinton, and U.S. Ambassador Dennis Ross (Clinton’s Middle East envoy). According to Ross, the peace efforts failed for one reason only: because Arafat wanted them to fail. “[F]undamentally,” said Ross, “I do not believe he [Arafat] can end the conflict. We had one critical clause in this agreement, and that clause was, this is the end of the conflict. Arafat’s whole life has been governed by struggle and a cause … [F]or him to end the conflict is to end himself…. Barak was able to reposition Israel internationally. Israel was seen as having demonstrated unmistakably it wanted peace, and the reason it [peace] wasn’t … achievable was because Arafat wouldn’t accept.”

In 2007, Malley became a foreign policy advisor to Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama.

In January 2008, one U.S. security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated that Malley “has expressed sympathy to Hamas and Hezbollah and [has] offered accounts of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that don’t jibe with the facts.”

At that time, Malley was the Middle East and North Africa Program Director for the International Crisis Group (ICG), which has received extensive funding from the Open Society Foundations (whose founder, George Soros, has served on both the ICG Board and Executive Committee). Covering events from Iran to Morocco, Malley’s team of analysts focused most heavily on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the political and military developments in Iraq, and Islamist movements across the Middle East.

On May 9, 2008, the Barack Obama presidential campaign was forced to sever its ties with Malley after the latter told the Times of London that he had been in regular contact with the genocidal terrorist group Hamas as part of his work for ICG.

On November 5, 2008, Middle East Newsline reported that Obama had “sent senior foreign-policy advisor Robert Malley to Egypt and Syria over the last few weeks to outline the Democratic candidate’s policy on the Middle East.” The report added that Malley had “relayed a pledge from Obama that the United States would seek to enhance relations with Cairo as well as reconcile with Damascus.” “The tenor of the messages was that the Obama administration would take into greater account Egyptian and Syrian interests,” said an aide to Malley.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in 2010, Malley called for the U.S. “to unveil a set of parameters” that included the creation of a Palestinian state along the “1967 borders,” which would have been a suicidal move for Israel. He also advocated the deployment of third-party armed forces in Judea-Samaria, and the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes in that region. And he said that Israel should relinquish control of the Golan Heights to Syria, on the premise that Syria was “unlikely to sponsor militant groups … [or] destabilize the region … once an agreement has been reached.”

After President Obama’s 2012 reelection, he appointed Malley to serve as his Senior Director for the Gulf Region and Syria. Obama pledged, however, that Malley would have no involvement in issues related to Israel and the Palestinians.

In February 2014, it was announced that Malley would become the next senior director of the National Security Council (NSC), where he would be in charge of managing relations between the United States and its allies in the Persian Gulf. In March 2015, Obama appointed Malley to direct the NSC’s policy in relation to the entire Middle East, including Israel. In November 2015, Malley was named as President Obama’s senior advisor for America’s counter-ISIL campaign in Iraq and Syria.

After President Obama left office in 2017, Malley returned to the International Crisis Group, serving as its Vice President for Policy. He subsequently became the organization’s President and CEO, positions he held until January 2021.

According to a report in The Washington Examiner, Malley in July 2019 met secretly with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in an effort to: (a) undermine and sabotage the Trump Administration’s efforts to defuse tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and (b) lay the groundwork for a future relationship between Tehran and a Democratic American President. That Malley-Zarif meeting likely contributed to the failure, two months later, of a Trump attempt to open a back channel of communication with leading Iranian officials during the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York City. Says the Examiner:

“The attempt at counter-diplomacy offers a window into the deep relationships Mr. Zarif forged with influential U.S. liberals over the past decade. These relationships blossomed into what high-level national security and intelligence sources say allowed the Iranian regime to bypass Mr. Trump and work directly with Obama administration veterans that Tehran hoped would soon return to power in Washington.”

In January 2020, Malley condemned the Trump Administration’s targeted killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) terrorist leader Qassem Soleimani, who was actively planning additional attacks against U.S. interests in the Middle East. Malley claimed that the killing of Soleimani made it “more likely” that global tensions would eventually “drag the country into another Middle East war.” He was wrong.

In November 2020, Malley condemned the Trump Administration’s targeted killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a designated Iranian terrorist and a leading IRGC nuclear scientist, on grounds that his assassination would “make it all the more difficult for [President Trump’s] successor to resume diplomacy with Iran.”

Surely the Iranian government today is deliriously happy to be dealing, in its negotiations with the United States, with America’s appeaser extraordinaire, Robert Malley.

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