The United States is reportedly considering removal of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) from Washington’s Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) blacklist of in return for Tehran’s assurances about reining in the elite force, amid efforts to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action under which the Islamic Republic limited nuclear development in return for relief from sanctions.
By Erin Viner
Two US speaking to TV7 on condition of anonymity confirmed the circulating reports regarding the ongoing discussions on a strategy designed to encourage Iranian leaders to undertake “difficult decisions of their own” to resolve outstanding issues to restart the JCPOA.
The administration of former US President Donald Trump officially designated the IRGC as an FTO in 2019; one year after withdrawing the US from the JCPOA on allegations of Iranian violations of the deal. Washington accused the powerful faction, that controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence forces, of actively engaging in a a global terrorist campaign.
Delisting of the IRGC as an FTO is among many conditions Iran insists must be met before it will resume compliance with the JCPOA.
Multiple sources say that dropping the terrorist designation is one of the last, and most vexing, issues in wider indirect talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.
Israel is adamantly opposed to the possible move.
“The fight against terrorism is a global one, a shared mission of the entire world. We believe that the United States will not abandon its closest allies in exchange for empty promises from terrorists,” said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in a joint statement
“The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps is a terrorist organization that has murdered thousands of people, including Americans, including “attacks on American civilians and American forces throughout the Middle East” over “past year,” as well as “behind plans to assassinate senior American government officials.”
“The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are Hezbollah in Lebanon, they are (Palestinian) Islamic Jihad in Gaza, they are the Houthis in Yemen, they are the militias in Iraq,” read the statement, asserting that the force is responsible for “the murder of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians” and destruction of Lebanon, in addition to having the “blood of thousands of Iranians and the crushed soul of the Iranian society” on its hands for serving as “an integral part of the brutal machine of oppression” in the Islamic Republic.
“They kill Jews because they are Jews, Christians because they are Christians, and Muslims because they refuse to surrender to them,” said the Israeli Premier and Foreign Minister.
Removal of the IRGC as an FTO “is an insult to the victims and would ignore documented reality supported by unequivocal evidence,” they added, expressing heavy doubt the group would honor any “promise not to harm Americans.”
Further underscoring Israel’s opposition to “Iran’s outrageous demand,” Bennett told his Cabinet yesterday that the IRGC is “the largest and most murderous terrorist organization in the world” because “unlike ISIS or other organizations it is backed by a state.”
Emphasizing that “this is not just an Israeli problem” the Premier pointed to the firing of missiles and launching UAVs into many peaceful countries in addition to the Jewish State. “Allies of the United States in the region face this organization day in and day out,” he underscored, saying, “Even now, the IRGC terrorist organization is trying to murder certain Israelis and Americans around the world.”
The “determination to sign the nuclear deal with Iran at almost any cost – including saying that the world’s largest terrorist organization is not a terrorist organization” is “too high a price,” he stated.
“Even if this unfortunate decision is made, the State of Israel will continue to treat the IRGC as a terrorist organization, and will continue to act against it as we do against terrorist organizations. As usual, our future will be determined by our actions, not words,” vowed Prime Minister Bennett.
According to the US State Department, “FTO designations play a critical role in the fight against terrorism and are an effective means of curtailing support for terrorist activities and pressuring groups to get out of the terrorism business.”
State Department Spokesman Ned Price said he was unable to comment when specifically asked about the issue during a press conference, although in earlier remarks he expressed the Administration’s confidence that outstanding issues with Iran “can be bridged.” While “significant progress” has brought the parties “close to a possible deal,” he nevertheless highlighted that “we are not there yet.” He addeded that, “From our end, we are not going to characterize the number or the nature of these remaining issues precisely because we are at a very delicate stage. We want to do everything we can to see to it that a mutual – well, to determine if a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is in the offing, and it would need to be in the offing in the short term. As we’ve said, there is little time remaining, given the nuclear advancements that Tehran has made, that over time would obviate the non-proliferation benefits that the JCPOA conveyed. So this is an issue that needs to be worked urgently. It is an issue that has had our urgent attention for some time now. We still continue to believe that a mutual return to compliance would be manifestly in our interests, and we are going to find out in the near term whether we’re able to get there.”
Meanwhile, outgoing CENTCOM Commander General Kenneth McKenzie said that “the IRGC and its elite element, the Quds Force, are absolutely at the very heart” of involvement in terror-related activities throughout the Middle East.
In response to questioning during testimony before a Congressional Committee hearing on “National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activities in the Greater Middle East and Africa,” the CENTCOM commander said it is his “best military advice to treat the IRGC as “certainly very disruptive and dangerous” and that anything that would “embolden or strengthen them would have a negative effect across the region.”
When asked for his perspective on reviving the JCPOA, Gen. McKenzie underscored that the US “number one priority is for Iran not to have a nuclear weapon.” Adding “what really concerns me much more on a day-to-day basis are their ballistic missiles, their cruise missiles and their land-attack cruise missiles, which they have invested-in heavily at great cost to their population over the past several years,” the CENTCOM chief underscored that, “Those capabilities directly threaten their neighbors.”
Deputy Secretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker reiterated during the Congressional hearing that Washington’s “commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad” toward ensuring its Qualitative Military Edge (QME), and that consultations between the two countries is held “on a near-daily basis.”