Biden’s appointment of 'sanctions architect' Richard Nephew met with criticism in Iran

Respected scholar and expert on sanctions joins the Biden administration as US deputy special envoy for Iran

FILE PHOTO: The State Department Building is pictured in Washington, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
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The appointment of sanctions expert Richard Nephew as US President Joe Biden's deputy special envoy for Iran at the State Department met by derision and criticism from Tehran.

Mr Nephew, a respected scholar and authority on sanctions who joined the Biden administration on on Monday as deputy to special envoy Robert Malley, is described as malicious and is being caricatured in the Iranian press.

Iranian member of parliament Ahmad Naderi called the appointment “proof of the Biden administration's maliciousness”.

Calling Mr Nephew the “architect of the oppressive sanctions”, Mr Naderi tweeted on Tuesday that “Americans' hatred of Iran is not limited to Republicans or Democrats".

Iran's conservative daily newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz depicted Mr Nephew as Keanu Reeves from the film The Devil's Advocate, with Mr Biden replacing Al Pacino, who played the Devil.

But in the US, Mr Nephew is widely respected for his scholarly work on the issues of energy, non-proliferation and sanctions. He has also been praised for his technocratic, across-party-line work and having served in the administrations of George W Bush and Barack Obama.

Until his appointment on Monday, Mr Nephew served as a senior research scholar at the Centre on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, and has been a non-resident senior fellow in the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institute.

From May 2011 to January 2013 he served as the director for Iran at the National Security Council, where he oversaw the expansion of US sanctions on Iran before the nuclear deal in 2015.

His appointment as deputy to Mr Malley, who was criticised for being too soft on Iran, attempts to strike a balance on the State Department team. US Secretary of State Tony Blinken is pushing for diversity of views and opinions on the Iran issue, US sources told The National. This has delayed some appointments but Mr Nephew was an early pick for the job because of his expertise and close relationship with the Biden transition team.

Randa Slim, director of the Conflict Resolution and Track II Dialogues Programme at the Middle East Institute, said the incoming Iran team is made up of experienced hands who know the regime.

"Mr Biden is bringing experienced team members who know their Iranian counterparts well, know the regime decision-making processes well, and have learnt from past experiences negotiating with Iran," Ms Slim told The National.

“They understand that the conditions facing them today are different from 2015, both in terms of US domestic politics and the current state of the Iranian nuclear programme.”

Besides Mr Malley and Mr Nephew, the Biden administration appointed Iranian scholar Ariane Tabatabai as senior adviser to the Office of the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security.

Sources told The National that Jarret Blanc, who was previously the deputy lead co-ordinator and State Department co-ordinator for Iran nuclear implementation at the State Department during the Obama administration, is being also considered for the Iran team.