EU suggests IRGC terror delisting compromise in attempt to save Iran nuke talks

Bloc policy chief Borrell tells newspaper that overall US designation could be lifted, with the restrictions remaining on certain parts of the organization

In this September 21, 2016, file photo, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops march in a military parade in Tehran, Iran. ​(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)
In this September 21, 2016, file photo, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops march in a military parade in Tehran, Iran. ​(AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)

The European Union is making a last-ditch attempt to kickstart stalled nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, which have reached an impasse over Iran’s demand that Washington removes the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the US terror list.

Talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal have now stalled for over six weeks.

However, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told The Financial Times in an interview published Saturday that the bloc was hoping to find a “middle way” to end the deadlock.

According to the report, Borrell suggested a scenario whereby the designation on the IRGC is generally lifted, but kept in place on some specific parts of the organization. Israeli officials have openly expressed their concern over the removal of the mostly symbolic designation.

The report noted that the IRGC has a number of wings as well as widespread business interests.

One option, the report suggested, was for the designation to be lifted from the IRGC, but to remain in place on the Quds Force, the overseas arm of the organization which carries out operations as well as funding terrorist groups across the Middle East — including in the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell attends a plenary session titled ‘Transforming for a New Era,’ during the Doha Forum in Qatar’s capital, on March 26, 2022. (Karim Jaafar/AFP)

The Quds Force is designated by a number of countries as a terrorist organization, including the US and Israel.

“At a certain moment, I will have to say, as coordinator [of the Vienna talks] I make this proposal on the table, formally… the only equilibrium point possible would be this one,” Borrell told the newspaper. “We cannot continue like this forever, because in the meantime Iran continues developing their nuclear program.”

Borrell said that “the file is on the table of {US} President Biden himself, my discussions with [US Secretary of State Antony] Blinken have reached the limit.”

According to The Financial Times, Borrell described efforts to find a solution as “the last bullet,” but said he would not be issuing an ultimatum to Iran on the matter.

“We Europeans will be very much beneficiaries from this deal, the situation has changed now. For us it was something… ’well we don’t need it,’ now it would be very much interesting for us to have another [crude] supplier,” Borrell said. “And the Americans need a diplomatic success.”

A security person at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, on March 30, 2005. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

The 2015 deal gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs meant to guarantee that Tehran could not develop a nuclear weapon, something it has always denied wanting to do.

The US unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 under then-US president Donald Trump and reimposed biting economic sanctions, prompting Iran to begin rolling back its own commitments and advancing its nuclear development.

The Vienna talks, which started a year ago, aim to return the US to the nuclear deal, including through the lifting of sanctions on Iran, and to ensure Tehran’s full compliance with its commitments. The US communicates with Iran via intermediaries at the talks.

The White House said last month that Iran’s nuclear breakout time, meaning the period it would need to amass the fissile material needed to build a bomb if it chose to do so, was down to only weeks. The US continues to insist a diplomatic solution is the best path forward.

Last week, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog agency confirmed Iran has set up a new centrifuge parts workshop underground at its Natanz nuclear facility for better protection.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi said the machines were moved from Karaj, near Tehran, to the new location, which he said was some three floors below ground, possibly to protect it from potential airstrikes.

The workshop produces parts for centrifuges, which are machines used to enrich uranium.

Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi talks during an interview with Associated Press in Kyiv, on April 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

The nuclear deal had Iran put advanced centrifuges into storage under the watch of the IAEA, while keeping its enrichment at 3.67% purity and its stockpile at only 300 kilograms (661 pounds) of uranium.

As of February 19, the IAEA says Iran’s stockpile of all enriched uranium was nearly 3,200 kilograms (7,055 pounds). Some have been enriched up to 60% purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Meanwhile, Iran has stopped the IAEA from accessing some of its surveillance camera footage.

Iran has long insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. However, US intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had an organized military nuclear program up until 2003, while Israel has insisted that Tehran has continued to pursue nuclear weapons since then.

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