Feb 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden's Iran envoy Rob Malley quietly reaches out to China

Rob Malley. Photo: Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Photo: Riccardo De Luca/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

U.S. special envoy to Iran Rob Malley had an "in-depth exchange of views on the Iranian nuclear issue" with a Chinese vice minister on a call initiated by Malley, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Feb. 10. The Biden administration has not spoken publicly about the call.

The big picture: Renewing multilateral diplomatic efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program is Malley's mandate under Biden.

Background: During the Obama administration, gaining China's support was key to levying the multilateral sanctions on Iran that eventually helped bring Iranian leaders to the bargaining table, leading to the signing of the Iran nuclear deal.

  • But Trump withdrew from that deal and China resumed imports of Iranian oil last year.

What they're saying: When contacted by Axios, the State Department did not confirm the details in the Chinese announcement.

  • "Special Envoy Rob Malley is in the early stages of engaging Members of Congress, allies, partners, and others," a U.S. State Department spokesperson told Axios in a statement.

What to watch: On Feb. 21, Iran will begin blocking International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors unless the U.S. eases sanctions.

The bottom line: As long as China gives Iran an economic lifeline, it will be easier for Iran to withstand Western pressure.

Go deeper