Tehran has yet to agree to a reported controversial trade-off with Washington on seeing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps removed from the US State Department terror blacklist in return for de-escalation in the Middle East, the Axios website said Wednesday, citing two US sources, and an Israeli official.
Reports have indicated that Iran is demanding the IRGC be delisted as a condition of its return to the flagging 2015 nuclear accord, the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which has been the subject of negotiations in Vienna. Former US president Donald Trump added the Guards to the terror blacklist in 2019, in what was seen as a largely symbolic move. Nonetheless, its potential removal has deeply discomfited Israeli leaders.
There have been conflicting reports as to whether it was the US or Iran that first raised the idea of delisting the IRGC.
The US, which is participating indirectly in the Vienna negotiations, is said to have conditioned delisting the IRGC on Iran publicly committing to de-escalation in the Middle East, a requirement that Iranian officials have not yet agreed to.
Instead, Iran proposed giving the US a private letter, according to the Axios sources who have direct knowledge of the matter.
The powerful IRGC is responsible for carrying out Iranian operations beyond its borders.
A senior US State Department official declined to comment on Iran’s stance, saying only that the US had recently repeated its position on the IRGC and was now waiting for the Iranian response.
A National Security Council spokesperson said reports about the Vienna negotiations and the US’s indirect talks are inaccurate, saying, “The president will re-enter JCPOA if it’s in the best interest of America’s national security.”
“There remain a number of outstanding gaps in these negotiations. The onus on closing these gaps rests with Iran,” the spokesperson said.
However, the Washington administration is worrying about the domestic political consequences of a change in attitude regarding the IRGC, which has already drawn criticism from dozens of lawmakers.
The White House has begun to back away from the idea, the two US sources told Axios.
On Tuesday, over 80 Congress members urged the Biden administration not to delist the IRGC.
In addition, three former senior Trump administration officials also warned against the move, among them former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
In a joint statement Pompeo, former national security adviser Robert O’Brien, and former director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe said pulling the IRGC from the terror list would be “a dangerous capitulation.”
Such a move, they wrote, would be “a denial of the basic reality that the IRGC’s core mission is to spread terror.”
Noting the IRGC’s “lengthy history of killing hundreds of Americans,” they insisted that the Corps “is a terrorist organization and should remain labeled as such.”
Both Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid last week called on the White House to not go through with delisting the IRGC.
Also, in a joint statement Friday expressing concern over the potential move, they said, “Even now, the IRGC terrorist organization is trying to murder certain Israelis and Americans around the world.”
Nuclear negotiations nearly reached completion earlier this month before Moscow demanded that its trade with Iran be exempted from Western sanctions over Ukraine, throwing the process into disarray. Negotiators have yet to reconvene in the Austrian capital, and it’s unclear exactly what hurdles lie ahead.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, visiting Syria, said Wednesday he believes that Tehran is close to reaching an agreement over its nuclear program and put the blame for delays on the American side, which he said should take “a realistic stance.” He did not elaborate.
“We believe that today we are closer to an agreement in Vienna than ever before,” Amir-Abdollahian said during a press conference in Damascus alongside his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad, Reteurs reported.
“We have given our latest proposals to the US through the European Union’s Coordinator to reach a final deal,” he said. “We reminded the Americans that we will not cross our red lines.”
The Trump administration pulled the US out of the JCPOA in 2018, and then reimposed biting sanctions. Iran responded by publicly dropping some of its own commitments and ramping up uranium enrichment to levels that have raised concerns it is now close to the threshold for producing a nuclear weapon.
Despite the sweeping economic sanctions it faces, Iran is hawking weapons at a Qatari defense exhibit, a surprising sight at a major conference also showcasing American companies and fighter jets.
Tucked away in the far left corner of the carpeted convention center, commanders from Iran’s defense ministry market their missiles and air defense weapons systems. The defense ministry manufactures arms for both Iran’s military and the powerful paramilitary IRGC, a group that plays a singular role in the creation and execution of Iran’s national security and foreign policy.
The DIMDEX exhibition serves to promote Qatar, a major non-NATO ally of the United States that’s home to the largest American military base in the Middle East. The tiny Gulf Arab country, however, also maintains good relations with Iran, with which it shares the world’s largest gas field.
Iranian representatives handed out brochures promoting their homemade jet trainers, helicopters and hovercraft.