The suspension of Robert Malley, the United States' special envoy for Iran, has taken a more perplexing turn following a report from an Iranian government newspaper, indicating a breach of national security regulations.
Published by the Tehran Times, an official Iranian state news agency, a memo dated April 21 allegedly penned by a senior US State Department official to Mr. Malley has come to light. The memo outlined the suspension of his top-secret clearance due to security apprehensions linked to his "personal conduct," handling of classified data, and use of information technology.
In response, the US State Department acknowledged awareness of the report on Tuesday while refraining from commenting on internal matters. It confirmed that Robert Malley remained on leave, asserting privacy considerations as the reason for limited disclosure.
The scarcity of information and the ensuing article have prompted inquiries among observers of Iran-US relations. The origin of the memo has drawn particular attention. Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, expressed skepticism, questioning how the Tehran Times acquired the memorandum. He raised concerns about its authenticity, its verification process, and its implications for information security and the administration's credibility.
Gabriel Noronha, a former adviser on Iran to the State Department, took to the social media platform X (formerly Twitter) to state that the memo appeared genuine. Noronha suggested that the memo indicated Malley's prior dishonesty regarding his awareness of the reasons behind his clearance suspension.
Previously, Robert Malley had stated his lack of knowledge regarding the cause of his leave. The Biden administration's reticence on the matter has triggered strong criticism from Republicans and demands for transparency.
Michael McCaul, who heads the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee, highlighted the potential authenticity of the memo and its significance, particularly given previous instances where the Iranian regime seemed to possess sensitive US government information while Congress remained uninformed. McCaul pledged to press the State Department for clarity on the ongoing Robert Malley situation.
The fact that the Tehran Times has taken the lead in reporting on this situation poses challenges for the Biden administration's public relations. Behnam Ben Taleblu remarked that allowing Tehran to control both the timing and content of publicized information concerning Malley's case does not bode well for the administration's communication strategy.
Recently, Michael McCaul and others co-authored a letter addressed to the Biden administration, seeking updates on the Malley investigation. In June, the State Department confirmed Malley's suspension, following Iran's announcement that US officials had engaged in indirect talks in Oman. Despite this, the Biden administration has maintained a largely muted stance on the specifics surrounding his absence.
This month, two prestigious US universities announced Malley's upcoming positions. Princeton University plans for him to teach foreign policy courses in the upcoming autumn term, while Yale University has designated him a senior fellow.
Appointed shortly after assuming office in 2021, Robert Malley was tasked by President Joe Biden with reviving the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The agreement aimed to curtail Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. However, progress on rekindling the deal has been sluggish, with the US opting for negotiations with Iran to de-escalate tensions. Talks are ongoing to secure the release of detained US citizens in Tehran in exchange for unfreezing Iranian assets held abroad.