US President Joe Biden has formally designated Robert Malley as his special envoy for Iran, the White House confirmed Friday, Anadolu Agency reported.
Malley, who formerly led the International Crisis Group conflict resolution non-profit, is stepping into the job amid bilateral tensions that have been severely exacerbated over the past four years.
During his tenure, former President Donald Trump embarked on what he called a “maximum pressure” campaign that included unilaterally withdrawing the US from the 2015 nuclear deal world powers struck with Iran, and going on to impose biting economic sanctions that have hobbled the Iranian economy.
Trump also ordered the January 2020 assassination of a key Iranian general in Baghdad that put the US and Iran on the precipice of all-out war.
In retaliation for the US move to reimpose sanction, Tehran has taken successive steps away from its agreements under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that it maintains are reversible, but vows it will not take such action until Washington lifts the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
That has been a point of contention with Biden’s team, which maintains Iran must first meet the pact’s requirements before it does so.
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also strongly defended Iran’s position, saying Washington needs to “take the first step.” Addressing new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, he said “the US violated JCPOA, blocked food/medicine to Iranians, and punished adherence to UNSCR 2231.”
“Throughout that sordid mess, Iran abided by JCPOA, only took foreseen remedial measures. Now, who should take 1st step?” he said on Twitter.
In response, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki maintained Washington’s position, saying that Iran’s return could precede a large agreement that could diffuse tensions and resolve outstanding grievances between the nations.
Biden “believes that by following diplomacy the US should seek to lengthen and strengthen these nuclear constraints, and address other issues of concern, including Iran’s ballistic missiles program and its regional activity,” Psaki said. “But again, Iran must resume compliance with the significant nuclear constraints under the deal.”