US politicians press for answers on Robert Malley's absence from Iran envoy post

Members of Congress wrote a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken requesting updates on the investigation

The State Department confirmed Robert Malley's leave in June. AFP
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High-ranking members of the US Congress on Tuesday submitted a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken requesting updates on the investigation into Robert Malley, the US special envoy for Iran, who was placed on leave two months ago.

Michael McCaul, who heads the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote the joint letter asking the administration of Joe Biden for answers over its placing of Mr Malley on leave pending a security clearance review.

Earlier this month, Princeton University announced that Mr Malley would teach a graduate course on foreign policy decision-making in the autumn and other courses in the spring. Mr Malley said he looks forward to returning to work for the government “in due course”.

Yale University wrote on its website that Mr Malley would also join them as a senior fellow.

“We are writing to directly reiterate our request that the Department notify and brief the Committee upon any relevant developments regarding the status of Mr. Malley’s employment and his ability to access classified information at the Department,” the letter said.

“This request is even more important with the recent news that Mr Malley will be joining both Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs as a visiting professor and guest lecturer, and Yale’s Jackson School of Global Affairs as a senior fellow.

“Both developments would suggest a change to his employment status and that he will be leaving the State Department.”

The State Department confirmed Mr Malley's suspension in June, after Iran said US officials had travelled to Oman to engage in indirect talks.

But so far the Biden administration has been largely silent on the circumstances surrounding Mr Malley's absence.

According to some media reports, Mr Malley's clearance was suspended amid a probe over his handling of classified material.

Earlier this month, a representative of the House Foreign Affairs Committee told The National that the Biden administration had refused to give details about the issue in a recent closed-door briefing, citing a privacy rule.

“We are concerned that some officials at the Department, including yourself, knew about Mr Malley’s situation for months but did not communicate to Congress about it, even as the Committee expressed bipartisan interest in receiving testimony or a briefing from Mr Malley on Iran policy,” wrote the authors of the letter.

Shortly after taking office in 2021, President Joe Biden tasked Mr Malley with reviving the Iran nuclear deal, which his predecessor Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018.

Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Tehran would agree to limit its nuclear programme in return for economic sanctions relief.

But efforts to revive the deal have so far stalled.

The US has instead held talks with Iran in an effort to ease tensions. And negotiations are continuing to release several US citizens who have been detained in Tehran in exchange for unfreezing assets abroad.

Updated: August 22, 2023, 5:30 PM