January 24, 2023 | Flash Brief

Biden Envoy Met Secretly with Iranians Amid Tehran’s Violent Crackdown on Protests

January 24, 2023 | Flash Brief

Biden Envoy Met Secretly with Iranians Amid Tehran’s Violent Crackdown on Protests

Latest Developments 

Iran International reported in an exclusive story last week that U.S. special envoy for Iran Robert Malley met at least three times with Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Saeed Iravani in the last two months. The U.S. State Department did not deny or confirm whether the meetings occurred when responding to Iran International’s request for verification. Rather, State said the United States has “the means to deliver specific and firm messages to Iran when it is in America’s interest to do so” and that “we’re not going to get into details about how we deliver these messages, except to say that we do so in close coordination with allies and partners.” Iran’s mission to the United Nations told Iranian state media that its ambassador “meets with various political and academic figures, but he has not had any negotiations with American officials.”

Expert Analysis 

“Since Malley’s objective remains securing some form of nuclear agreement with Iran that includes the United States lifting sanctions on Tehran, secret meetings between Malley and the regime in Tehran raise serious concerns about the Biden administration’s commitment to the Iranian protest movement and Ukraine’s defense from the Russian-Iranian war machine. The administration should answer basic questions on the timing, content, and third-party coordination of these meetings: Who authorized these meetings, what was discussed, and who has been briefed outside of the U.S. government?” — Richard Goldberg, FDD Senior Advisor

Reported Meetings Would Embolden Tehran Regime 

Over the course of the last two months, when Malley reportedly was meeting with Tehran’s UN ambassador, the regime was intensifying its crackdown on dissent in Iran, including public executions of peaceful protesters. At the same time, Tehran continued to provide military and sanctions evasion support to Russia, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan even accusing Iran of complicity in war crimes perpetrated in Ukraine. Sending Malley to meet with the regime — and perhaps even offer incentives to change its behavior — could have backfired by signaling American weakness to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

What Else Could Have Been Discussed 

Malley’s meeting with Iravani might be related to Iran’s continued detainment of U.S. citizen Siamak Namazi, who last week declared a hunger strike and wrote an open letter urging President Joe Biden to do more to win his release. Last year, Malley reportedly offered to unfreeze billions of dollars in regime assets held in Iran’s U.S.-sanctioned bank accounts in South Korea in exchange for Namazi’s release. The administration should explicitly state whether Malley’s recent secret meetings included any discussion relating to the unfreezing of accounts or lifting of sanctions on Iran — a move that would directly undermine the ongoing protest movement in Iran and Kyiv’s drive to hold Tehran accountable for transferring armed drones to Russia.

Related Analysis 

Iran Hangs Two Protesters While 109 Face Prospect of Execution,” FDD Flash Brief

U.S. May Allow Payment to Iran for Hostages,” FDD Flash Brief


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Nonproliferation