The secret talks that doomed Rob Malley

Over the last few days, Rob Malley has been making global headlines due to the suspension of his security clearances. In the latest development, the Twitter account of the office of the U.S. envoy for Iran removed the profile photo of Malley, indicating that the embattled Malley has either been formally dismissed or the FBI probe into his case will take longer time than expected. 
Malley has not made any official statement on his ordeal. And the Biden administration has so far refrained to explain the circumstances of his unpaid leave. Press reports suggest that Malley was placed on leave earlier this year but no date has so far been announced for that. The Tehran Times has been to the first to report the exact date of Malley’s leave, which began on 21 April. 
Citing a source familiar with the matter, the Tehran Times earlier said that on April 21, Malley was informed by the Diplomatic Security Department that he had difficulty in preserving and maintaining classified documents, and his clearance was suspended. His work-related accesses were cut off at this time. However, to prevent the matter from becoming public, some of his limited and non-critical accesses were maintained, such as his communication with the families of American prisoners in Iran.
After several weeks, Malley is sent on forced and unpaid leave, which is not exactly a dismissal. During this period, Iran and the US held confidential negotiations in Oman, and the US sent Brett McGurk, a member of the National Security Council who is close to Jake Sullivan, to Oman.
Ironically, April marked the second anniversary of the resumption of talks over reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). During the Trump administration, which unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, Malley has been a staunch proponent of the tattered deal. But when he took the reins in the Biden administration, he pursued more or less the same goals of the previous administration, something that occluded progress toward reviving the JCPOA. 
Following the Tehran Times’ recent report on the downfall of Rob Malley, many questions and requests were directed to the Tehran Times querying about the main reason for the suspension of Malley’s clearances. Although the Diplomatic Security Department of the U.S. has so far made no private or public statements in this regard, a source at the U.S. State Department told the Tehran Times that the main problem of Malley stems from his secret talks with Iranian Ambassador to the UN Saeid Iravani and his meetings with some of Iranian-American figures in the U.S.
As reported earlier, in what amount to a negotiation tactic, Malley has been in regular contact with various circles and people to advance his policies regarding Iran. Through these contacts, Malley sought to influence the calculations of the Iranian negotiating team. 
These people include Ali Vaez, Malley’s former right-hand man at the Crisis Group; Vali Nasr, a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; and Trita Parsi, the current colleague of Malley’s son at the Quincy Institute. They are Iranian Americans whose presence in Democrats’ Iran diplomacy during the Obama and Biden administrations is quite clear. Thanks to their connection with the former Iranian negotiators, some of whom are still present in the current negotiating team; they play the role of broker and middleman between Iran and the Democratic administration of the U.S. 
But what is certain is that Robert Malley, who has had secret access and security clearances at the highest levels of the U.S. government for years, has been in full coordination with the U.S. State Department in promoting this negotiation tactic.
Perhaps the reason why U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken did not meet and talk with Malley is because the U.S. top diplomat does not want the scope of this scandal to expand and tarnish his reputation.
At any rate, what is clear is that Malley’s dismissal was not due to a disagreement between the Secretary of State team and the National Security Advisor team.
These two teams have worked very well together to keep this issue secret and exploit it in the recent negotiations with Iran over the last three months. In fact, Malley’s extreme closeness to his unofficial advisers of Iranian origin, which was perhaps his greatest strength and the reason for his appointment to this position in the new American government, has now become his Achilles’ heel and caused his downfall.
By: Sadra Torabi
First published in Tehran Times 

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