— Washington (AFP)

The US pointman on Iran has been placed on leave, the State Department said Thursday, as reports said that his handling of sensitive material was under review.

Special envoy Rob Malley, in a statement to several news outlets, confirmed that his security clearance was under review and said he hoped the investigation would be resolved "favorably."

CNN, quoting anonymous sources, said the review related to his handling of classified documents.

While details of the case were unclear, the review comes amid a growing spotlight on classified material after former president Donald Trump was indicted on charges of mishandling documents from his time in office.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said only that Malley was on leave and that Abram Paley, his deputy, was leading work on Iran.

Malley, who has long faced fierce criticism from hawks, was one of the negotiators of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran under former president Barack Obama that was trashed by his successor Trump.

Malley led months of indirect negotiations with Iran mediated by the European Union to restore the deal, under which Tehran was promised sanctions relief in return for sharply curtailing its nuclear program.

The talks ultimately collapsed in part over disputes on the extent of sanctions relief by the United States, with opposition also rising to a deal after major protests erupted against Iran's clerical regime.

Malley has been conspicuously absent in quiet new indirect talks between the two countries, which were brokered by Oman and focused largely on the fate of US prisoners in Iran.

He is a childhood friend of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who appointed him shortly after taking office in 2021 in defiance of warnings from the rival Republican Party.

Malley has been a bete noire for pro-Israel hawks since his time as a Middle East aide to Bill Clinton when he publicly rejected what he said were exaggerated accounts of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's responsibility for the failure of the Camp David peace summit.

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