The Biden administration is expected to name Robert Malley, a former senior foreign policy adviser to then-President Barack Obama, as its special envoy on Iran, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday.
Malley’s appointment by President Joe Biden could be announced as early as Thursday or Friday, one of the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
When Malley’s name first surfaced in news reports as a leading candidate for the post, it drew criticism from some Republican lawmakers and pro-Israel groups who expressed concern that he would be soft on Iran and tough on Israel. But a number of foreign policy veterans rushed to his defence.
The post will put Malley at the forefront of one of Biden’s most daunting foreign policy challenges: finding a way to deal with Iran after years of worsening relations under former President Donald Trump. The Diplomatic news website was first to report on Malley’s expected appointment.
Malley served under Obama and was a key part of the team that negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and the world powers, an agreement that Trump pulled out of in 2018.
He has held numerous senior positions for the Democratic administrations of Obama and former President Bill Clinton with a focus on Middle East and Gulf policymaking.
Most recently, he was the president of the International Crisis Group, a non-profit organisation focused on global conflict.
Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear pact as his administration pursued a “maximum pressure” strategy against Tehran. Since then, Iran has begun to enrich uranium at a more rapid rate, coming closer to being able to make a nuclear weapon.
New Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the Biden administration will seek a renewal of the nuclear deal with a “longer and stronger agreement” than the United Nations-backed agreement with Iran.
Blinken also said the new administration wants an end to the war in Yemen.
US Republicans in Congress oppose the restoration of diplomacy Biden that wants with Iran which will add to the complications Malley would have to navigate.
Relations between the US and Iran have been extraordinarily tense since the US assassination on Trump’s orders of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in January 2020.