February 18, 2021
News Press Release

ZOA Urges Transparency About Iran Envoy Robert Malley’s Secret Calls With Chinese Vice Foreign Minister

Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) President Morton A. Klein, ZOA Chair Mark Levenson Esq., ZOA Government Relations Director Dan Pollak, and ZOA Special Projects Director Liz Berney, Esq. released the following statement: 

The ZOA urges and requests that the U.S. State Department provide transparency about the content of the secret conversations that Special Envoy to the Islamic Republic of Iran Robert Malley initiated and held with communist Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu about the Iran nuclear issue. There is a real possibility that these secret conversations are undermining U.S. interests in maintaining strong sanctions on Iran, or are setting the stage for other types of appeasement of Iran.

The fact that these conversations occurred came to light because China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced: “On February 10, 2021, Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu had a phone conversation with U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley at the latter’s request, and the two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on the Iranian nuclear issue.”

Typically, the White House or State Department provides “read outs” confirming calls with foreign officials and summarizing the content of the discussion. However, the State Department issued no read-out regarding Malley’s conversations with Minister Ma Zhaoxu. Moreover, at the State Department’s February 17, 2021 press briefing, when the U.S. State Department was specifically questioned about China’s announcement of the Malley-Ma Zhaoxu meeting, and about the State Department’s failure to provide confirmation of the meeting and a readout, the State Department spokesman merely said that there were “ongoing consultations,” including with Minister Ma Zhaoxu, and provided no substantive information about what was discussed. (See also State Department Refuses to Discuss Iran Envoy’s Talks with Chinese Leaders: The State Department would not provide any details when pressed,” Fox News, Feb. 17, 2021.)

The U.S. State Department’s refusal to disclose the substantive content of Malley’s calls raises growing concerns among Iran watchers (including ZOA) that these calls may signal a Biden administration attempt to use China to circumvent existing sanctions on Iran, and to provide Iran with unwarranted de facto sanctions relief. This would undermine U.S. leverage to obtain a better Iran deal, and signal that the administration plans to use secret appeasement of Iran to return to the catastrophic 2015 Iran deal (the JCPOA). The JCPOA gave Iran a route to a nuclear bomb, enriched Iran with billions of dollars of sanctions relief, enabled Iran to expand its terror and military activities, and has woefully inadequate, limited inspections.

As the news service Axios says, the bottom line is: “As long as China gives Iran an economic lifeline, it will be easier for Iran to withstand Western pressure.” (“Biden’s Iran Envoy Rob Malley Quietly Reaches Out to China,” by Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, Axios, Feb. 16, 2021.)

Malley’s meetings with China appear to violate the official Biden administration position that it will not conduct talks with Iran until Iran returns to the JCPOA’s limits on Iran’s nuclear development. As the Washington Free Beacon said: “Malley’s overtures to China on the Iran portfolio appear to be at odds with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s repeated promises to not pursue diplomacy with Tehran until it rolls back its nuclear work and proves it is in compliance with the restrictions placed on its program as part of the agreement. The State Department’s silence on Malley’s meeting could be an indication the Biden administration’s public statements on the deal are at odds with its private diplomacy on the matter.” (“State Dept Refuses to Explain Iran Envoy’s Talks with China,” by Adam Kredo, Washington Free Beacon, Feb. 2021.)

House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking leader Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) also found the State Department’s lack of disclosure to be “troubling,” and added: “I don’t understand why the State Department wouldn’t acknowledge the call and let the American people know what was discussed.” (Id.)

ZOA is also concerned because Malley’s overture to the Chinese, in contradiction to “official” administration statements, is eerily and dangerously reminiscent of the Obama-Biden administration’s secret appeasement offers to Iran prior to entering into the JCPOA. At the same time that the Obama-Biden administration was assuring the public (and its P5+1 partners) that the U.S. would appropriately not permit Iran to enrich uranium, the administration secretly sent envoys Jake Sullivan and Bill Burns, who now have top jobs in the Biden administration, to meet with the Iranians in Oman in 2013, to offer Iran the opposite: that Obama-Biden would allow Iran to continue to enrich uranium. (See, e.g. The Inside Story of the Obama Administration’s Iran Diplomacy,” by Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Politico, Sept. 25, 2015. These secret appeasement offers are also recounted in Wendy Sherman’s book, Not for the Faint of Heart, at pp. 34-35.) Sherman is Deputy Secretary of State in the Biden administration. 

Moreover, the ZOA and others are concerned about Malley having any role in Iran dealings and in the Biden administration, in light of Malley’s extreme hostility to Israel, sympathy for the Iranian regime, contacts with Hamas, and statements favoring appeasement of Iran. (“ZOA Opposes Robert Malley Serving As Special Envoy on Iran or Any Position,” Jan. 24, 2021. See also “Biden’s First Foreign Policy Blunder Could Be on Iran,” by Eli Lake, Bloomberg, Jan. 21, 2021.)

China’s statements and close involvements with Iran add to these concerns. China has been doing business with Iran, covertly and overtly, both before and after sanctions were officially in place, including importing Iranian oil and transferring missile technology to Iran. Iran is historically China’s third largest oil supplier. After China clandestinely imported Iranian oil for many years, China resumed overtly importing oil from Iran in mid-2020. (“China Resumes Reporting Oil Imports From Iran In July,” by Dalga Khatinoglu, Radio Farda, Aug. 27, 2020.) The Trump administration sanctioned Chinese entities for transferring missile technology to Iran. “New Sanctions Under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA),” Sec’y of State Michael Pompeo Press Statement, 2017-2021 U.S. State Dep’t Archives, Nov. 27, 2020.) In June 2020, the Iranian cabinet approved a 25-year economic and strategic cooperation agreement with China – a major violation of existing sanctions on Iran. (“Gov’t Approves 25-Year Roadmap for Iran-China Cooperation,” Financial Tribune, June 22, 2020.) Iran’s very severe Covid crisis is believed to be directly related to the very large number of Iran’s visitors from China.

China moreover opposed and condemned the Trump administration’s vital, successful program of “maximum pressure” on Iran. (See, e.g., “China Urges U.S. to Stop Imposing “Maximum Pressure” Against Iran,” Xinhua (Chinese government-run) News Agency, July 29, 2019; “China Opposes US Threats at UN to Pressure Iran,” by Wang Qingyun, (Communist-owned) China Daily, July 15, 2020.) 

Due to the real possibility that Malley’s secret conversations are undermining U.S. interests in maintaining strong sanctions on Iran, or involve additional appeasement of Iran, ZOA urges prompt transparency, and discontinuation of these underhanded contacts.