Tehran Times Seems To Be Only Outlet With News on Biden’s Iran Point Man

Reporting on the suspension and removal of security clearance from Robert Malley is remarkably thin in Washington, a town that relishes press leaks, raising speculation that some at Tehran may know things that those at the capital don’t.

AP/Florian Schroetter, file
Robert Malley on June 20, 2021, at Vienna. AP/Florian Schroetter, file

Washington officials are doubling down on their stonewalling as Congress demands an update on the status of President Biden’s Iran envoy, Robert Malley. Press queries are systematically being rebuffed and in lieu of hard information, details-starved onlookers are turning to an unexpected source, the Tehran Times, a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime. 

Is the website’s Sunday “exclusive” on what “doomed Robert Malley” really based on an unidentified Washington official’s briefing, as the Tehran Times claims, or is it a figment of the pro-Tehran publication’s imagination? Answers are unclear. Yet, the site’s second scoop in a week, which cites “a source at the U.S. State Department,” is quite detailed, raising speculation that some at Tehran may know things that those at Washington don’t. 

Such speculation owes to the administration’s consistent refusal to brief Congress on Mr. Malley’s status. Reporting on the suspension and removal of security clearance from Mr. Biden’s top Iran policy adviser is remarkably thin in a town that relishes press leaks. Details are scarce beyond the general idea that it had to do with mishandling documents.

In lieu of hard information, Washingtonians resort to reading the tea leaves. On Friday, Mr. Malley’s Twitter handle, @USEnvoyIran, was taken over by his former deputy, Abram Paley. “The Office of the Special Envoy for Iran and the entire team at the State Department remain engaged in implementing our policy on Iran,” Mr. Paley wrote. Is he now in charge?  

Yet, however accurate, the Iranians do provide hard information. “The Iranian regime knows more than Congress about Rob Malley’s suspension because that’s who Malley and his network of propagandists talk to,” a senior Republican congressional staffer tells the Sun. 

“Malley built his career working with the Iranians while misleading Congress and the American people,” the staffer said. “So of course that’s what he and the administration are doing now — except this time it seems to be part of something criminal.”

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Robert McCall, has demanded a detailed state department briefing on Mr. Malley’s apparent dismissal by July 25. “I can’t tell you how important this is,” he told CBS. “Because if he somehow, you know — worst case scenario — transferred intelligence and secrets to our foreign nation adversary … that would be treason in my view.”

CBS sought answers from Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jacob Sullivan, who said merely that Mr. Malley “has served multiple administrations faithfully and well. He is a public servant. He is a diplomat. He is engaged in high-level, high-stakes diplomacy for a long time. And he’s someone who a lot of us, including myself, have deep respect for.”

Yet, Mr. Sullivan added, “I can’t speak to the current circumstances. I have to refer you to the state department on that.” The department’s spokesman, Matt Miller, has consistently cited “privacy” concerns to explain the refusal to detail the facts of the case to Congress. 

All of which makes the Tehran Times’s reporting newsworthy. So much so that Washington sources are beginning to suspect that someone — whether it would be at the state department, the White House, Mr. Malley himself, or perhaps one his close allies mentioned in the website’s article — would rather brief a pro-regime outlet than our own press. 

“My first reaction reading anything in the Iranian media is skepticism. Yet, the level of detail in the Tehran Times is highly suspect, and it raises concerns,” a policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, Jason Brodsky, tells the Sun. 

The gist of the Tehran Times’s Sunday article is that Mr. Malley’s falling out of favor had to do with his ties to a group of close associates who are seen by critics as too tight with the Iran regime. “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,” the website writes.

Although he has turned to them as “brokers and middlemen” between Tehran and Washington, Mr. Malley “has been in full coordination” with the state department, the Tehran Times reports. His dismissal “was not due to a disagreement between the Secretary of State team and the National Security Advisor team.” 

Mr. Vaez, a longtime confidante of Mr. Malley, told CNN that “with or without Rob Malley, the Biden administration believes that the only sustainable solution to the nuclear crisis with Iran is a diplomatic one.” He protested against critics who say Mr. Biden is “too soft” on Iran. 

Messrs. Baez, Nasr, and Parsi have long been targeted by Iranian exiles and other critics of Washington policies as leading the administration away from tough pressure on an oppressive regime seeking nuclear power. The mere mention of their names add fuel to the speculation on Mr. Malley’s dismissal.  

“The state department is not doing itself any favors by stonewalling Congress or the media,” Mr. Brodsky says, especially if Mr. Malley has not committed serious transgressions. The administration’s silence further fuels suspicions that Mr. Biden’s long-time Iran policy leader might be guilty of, as Mr. McCall says, “treason.”

The New York Sun

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