To save nuclear deal, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards deserve concession on US terrorist list

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In recent weeks, diplomats have gone from saying that the revival of the Iran nuclear deal would arrive in days to admitting that it was completely uncertain whether it would materialize. Negotiations in Vienna began almost a year ago, but time is running out from the West’s point of view: in less than a month, Iran could possess uranium capable of making a nuclear bomb . But sensing its advantage, Iran engaged in last-minute bargaining.

After then-US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018, Iran began enriching uranium to 60%, close to the 90% threshold required for nuclear weapons . Iran has now agreed to reduce its uranium enrichment to 3.67%, as established in the original agreement.

Iran had demanded in turn that the United States officially declare that future American governments will respect the agreement, but this request was summarily rejected. Iranians had felt nervous about the deal’s longevity given Republican opposition; former Vice President Mike Pence said a renewed deal would be torn apart by Republicans if they returned to the White House. Iran, however, would have been put at ease by an apparent agreement that would allow it to avoid completely destroying its advanced centrifuges (although it is not yet clear whether Iran would simply disconnect these centrifuges or to dismantle them and send them to a third country for safekeeping). ).

In recent weeks, diplomats have gone from saying that the revival of the Iran nuclear deal would arrive in days to admitting that it was completely uncertain whether it would materialize. Negotiations in Vienna began almost a year ago, but time is running out from the West’s point of view: in less than a month, Iran could possess uranium capable of making a nuclear bomb . But sensing its advantage, Iran engaged in last-minute bargaining.

After then-US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018, Iran began enriching uranium to 60%, close to the 90% threshold required for nuclear weapons . Iran has now agreed to reduce its uranium enrichment to 3.67%, as established in the original agreement.

Iran had demanded in turn that the United States officially declare that future American governments will respect the agreement, but this request was summarily rejected. Iranians had felt nervous about the deal’s longevity given Republican opposition; former Vice President Mike Pence said a renewed deal would be torn apart by Republicans if they returned to the White House. Iran, however, would have been put at ease by an apparent agreement that would allow it to avoid completely destroying its advanced centrifuges (although it is not yet clear whether Iran would simply disconnect these centrifuges or to dismantle them and send them to a third country for safekeeping). ).

Everything seemed settled, almost everything. But then Iran threw a spanner in the works demanding that it would not budge until the United States agreed to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the list of terrorist organizations. Foreign Affairs (FTO) of the Department of State. There are plenty of reasons to be angered by Iran’s diplomatic intransigence, but given the delicate context, it’s a concession the United States should be prepared to make.

Iran initially insisted that non-nuclear issues should not be included in talks aimed at reviving a nuclear deal. The Biden administration has agreed to exclude from the talks both Iran’s regional aggression through various proxy militias and its ballistic missile program. Washington’s traditional allies in the Middle East were deeply disappointed by the move. If Washington lifts the terrorist designation of the IRGC, they will interpret it as the biggest insult of all.

Last week, the United States imposed new sanctions on entities linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program to assuage concerns among its allies. In addition, US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley and Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed that regardless of the terrorist designation of the IRGC, the US will always treat it as an illegitimate entity and that ‘a series of sanctions will remain imposed on the group that hinder doing business abroad.

The group has indeed been hit with all sorts of sanctions since 2007 that prevent US companies and banks from engaging with the IRGC and affiliated entities. The IRGC was only added to the FTO list in 2019 as part of Trump’s maximum pressure campaign, but that had a limited effect on the IRGC’s ability to wreak havoc in the region. The group continued to support its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and it moved freely in the region despite the terrorist designation.

Given foreign and domestic pressure to keep the IRGC on the terrorist list, delisting the organization is not an attractive choice for a US president. But dealing with Iran has never been about pleasant choices. The question is whether the benefits of a restored nuclear deal (before Iran manages to produce enough uranium to produce a bomb) outweigh the costs of delisting the IRGC.

Some experts believe that since the IRGC would remain subject to sanctions under several other US sanctions programs, its removal from the terrorist list is not a major concession by the Biden administration. Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group, said the terrorist designation had no effect on reducing the group’s offensive armed operations in the region. Instead, soon after being delisted, the group escalated attacks in the area.

“Within weeks, alleged Iranian attacks took place against commercial shipping. He shot down an American drone. Saudi Aramco attack a few months later. Frequent attacks on US forces in Iraq,” he said. “It’s hard to argue that the designation did anything to reduce the IRGC’s influence; in fact, we’ve seen it get more cheeky.

Reports indicate that Iran has assured that it will commit to defusing the region in exchange for the withdrawal of the IRGC as a terrorist entity. But there is no certainty he would follow through on that promise, leading some to warn that the FTO designation should only be lifted once the IRGC gets a hold of its militias in neighboring countries where they hold. local political systems hostage to the whims of Iran. Others recommend that any promises from Iran be made public.

“If a delisting is related to new commitments on Iran’s part – for example affecting its missile arsenal, maritime activities or regional behavior – they must be clearly presented and disclosed to the public to deprive the Iranian regime of any room for interpretation,” said Farzin Nadimi, a research associate at the Washington Institute.

Iran’s request to remove the IRGC from the list appears to have more to do with the country’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi’s efforts to appease his domestic allies. The IRGC was formed in 1979 as the armed unit of the Islamic revolution and has a mandate to protect the religious character of the revolution. It fought in the eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s and doubled as the national army of the clerical establishment. The IRGC still answers only to the country’s supreme leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Over the past 40 years, the IRGC has been empowered by the ayatollahs to be used against moderate political and market forces in Iran to maintain their hegemony. By some estimates, it controls almost a third of Iran’s economy, although it probably controls far more. Most of his business activities are a subject of public consternation and kept secret. Its affiliated construction company has been awarded thousands of lucrative construction contracts by the government, won rigged bids to privatize the telecommunications sector, and manages everything from mining companies to the online gaming industry to contraband supplies into the country. More controversially, he was allowed into Iran’s prized energy sector by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had previously served in the IRGC’s intelligence and security units.

For the IRGC, however, the FTO’s delisting is a matter of prestige and honor, as they see themselves as the protector of an Islamic order in Iran and a force for good in the region against Sunni jihadists. . The Iranian establishment in its current form clearly agrees. Indeed, given the base of support the IRGC has in Iran’s political and religious establishment, it is hard to imagine what role sanctions could play in significantly damaging it. The only way to permanently weaken the group would be for Iranian moderates to gain much greater influence over the entire political system. There is little the US government can do to achieve this short-term goal, and certainly not in the context of nuclear negotiations.

The fight over IRGC status remains a battle of nerves, and it’s unclear who will blink first. But it may not be wiser for the West to give in, because time is not on its side. If the West were to give Iran two more weeks or a month to continue making progress on nuclear enrichment, it could completely circumvent the deal. Vaez summed up the riddle over the IRGC’s terrorist designation as a nonsensical question. “It doesn’t help the United States; it does no harm to Iran,” he said.

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