In 2014, the Iranian Foreign Ministry decided to bolster the terror state’s image with the aim of influencing U.S. foreign policy. It recruited a network of fellow travelers to help the cause and called the project the Iran Experts Initiative. According to a cache of emails uncovered by Semafor and Iran International, a Persian-language outlet in London, at least three of those recruits became top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s chief negotiator on Iran.
Malley probably didn’t need much prodding to surround himself with academics who took the Iranian position. As critics have been pointing out for more than a decade, Malley has a real soft spot for the Islamic State and its allies.
Recall that during the 2008 presidential campaign Barack Obama, still feigning pro-Israel views, was forced to sever ties with Malley after it was reported he had met with the Iranian proxy Hamas, a group the Justice Department designated a terror organization. Malley and other Obama allies met with Hamas again in 2010.
“This administration is different from the previous administration,” Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, Ahmed Yussuf, noted at the time. “We believe Hamas’s message is reaching its destination.” Indeed.
None of that slowed Malley’s career trajectory. Quite the opposite. After winning reelection, Obama openly turned on Israel and rehired Malley, the son of the communist Yasser Arafat confidant Simon Malley, to be his ISIS “czar.” Malley would soon help craft Obama’s nuclear Iran giveaway.
This is the person President Joe Biden tapped as lead envoy in Iran negotiations. When critics pointed out Malley’s sordid history, virtually every progressive antagonist of a Jewish state — from Code Pink’s Ariel Gold to Matt Duss to the National Iranian American Council to the Quincy Institute — came to Malley’s defense.
Anti-Israel columnist Peter Beinart wrote that “the venom” against Malley was “absurdly overblown” because he exhibited neither “sympathy” for the Iranian regime nor “animus” toward Israel. Ben Rhodes, perhaps Iran’s biggest champion in DC, declared there was “literally no one better to pursue diplomacy with Iran than Rob Malley.”
Well, literally the best possible person for the job in the entire world has been stripped of his security clearance and is now being investigated by the FBI. Now we also learn that Malley hired at least three people who were working to influence U.S. foreign policy for Iran’s Foreign Ministry—which is quite the happenstance.
One of them, Ariane Tabatabai, initially a member of Malley’s Iran nuclear “negotiating” team, is now chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations at the Pentagon, a position that requires a security clearance.
Emails reportedly show that Tabatabai, a highly credentialed academic, sought advice from the Iranian Foreign Ministry on how she could best help the terror regime and offered to ghostwrite propaganda for its Western allies. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accepted her proposition. That is ironic, considering her op-eds imploring Democrats to surrender to Iran could have been written by Zarif himself.
Dina Esfandiary, another Malley hire, would end up penning articles for The New York Times with headlines like “The Hard-Liners Won in Iran. That’s Not All Bad News.” Esfandiary and Tabatabai joined forces to pen an article titled, “Mission Impossible: Iran Is Too Powerful to Contain.”
Then there is Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project and a Malley protégé. “As an Iranian, based on my national and patriotic duty, I have not hesitated to help you in any way; from proposing to Your Excellency a public campaign against the notion of [nuclear] breakout, to assisting your team in preparing reports on practical needs of Iran,” he emailed Iran’s Foreign Minister in 2014.
No word on what His Excellency replied, but does this sound like a person who has the United States’s best interests in mind?
Since then, Vaez has been quoted as an unbiased expert on the region by The Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Bloomberg, Reuters, BBC, Los Angeles Times, and so on. This summer, Vaez was talking to CNN about Malley’s situation without mentioning that his mentor reportedly tried to have him join Biden’s Iran negotiating team. Vaez was, according to the story, unable to get a security clearance. That seems like a red flag. Did Malley share information with Vaez? Did he take the advice of Vaez?
The uncovered emails, which are from an advisor to Zarif, span from 2003 to 2021. What do the emails to Iran officials from 2021 to 2023 look like? Although stories about the dangerous influx of foreign influence in the U.S. government were all the rage during the Trump years, there is mostly silence on Malley—whom Princeton University recently hired as a professor.
At best, Malley sought out people who were in complete sync with the Iranian government’s position. That tells us something important about the alleged quality of the Obama and Biden Iran negotiations. At worst—and quite plausibly, considering his ideological disposition and history—Malley was perfectly happy to surround himself with Iran’s hacks. You might hire one advisor that is helping Iran by accident. But three members of the Iran Experts Initiative?
And what are the chances that the same people who promised to influence American foreign policy in favor of Iran — in one case, declaring his loyalty to the state — would suddenly stop being useful to the regime when they finally found themselves in a position to make a real difference?
Seems like something we should want to find out.