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Iran says won’t abandon avenging Soleimani killing to end sanctions

Comments by IRGC commander come after US official says ‘If Iran wants sanctions lifting that goes beyond JCPOA, they’ll need to address concerns of ours’

Iranians lift national flags during a ceremony in the capital Tehran, on January 3, 2022, commemorating the second anniversary of the killing in Iraq of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani (portrait) and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a US raid. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iranians lift national flags during a ceremony in the capital Tehran, on January 3, 2022, commemorating the second anniversary of the killing in Iraq of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani (portrait) and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a US raid. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said Thursday they will not stop efforts to avenge a top general killed in a US attack as a condition to end some sanctions.

General Qassem Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the Revolutionary Guards, was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq’s capital Baghdad in January 2020.

“Enemies have asked us several times to give up avenging the blood of Qassem Soleimani, for the lifting of some sanctions, but this is a fantasy,” Guards navy commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri says, quoted by the Guards’ Sepah News website. The Guards are the ideological arm of Iran’s military.

Iran has been engaged for a year in negotiations with France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China directly, and the United States indirectly, to revive the 2015 deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). US president Donald Trump withdrew the US from the deal in 2018, leading Tehran to break away from it as well.

The commander’s comments may have been a reference to Iran’s demand that it remove the Guards from a terror blacklist in order for Tehran to return to compliance with the multilateral nuclear agreement.

On Monday, the US appeared to reject that demand.

“If Iran wants sanctions lifting that goes beyond the JCPOA, they’ll need to address concerns of ours that go beyond the JCPOA,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said when asked about the Revolutionary Guards’ delisting. “They will need to negotiate those issues in good faith with reciprocity.”

As Iran has not expressed a willingness to budge on non-nuclear-related issues, Price’s remarks appeared to put to bed the possibility of a unilateral delisting by Washington, even if it meant coaxing Tehran back into compliance with the JCPOA.

“If they do not want to use these talks to resolve other bilateral issues, then we are confident we can very quickly reach an understanding on the JCPOA and begin to reimplement the deal itself,” Price told reporters.

He declined to state whether the US had officially decided to reject Iran’s demand to remove the IRGC from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terror Organizations.

“We will use every appropriate tool to confront the IRGC’s destabilizing role in the region including working closely with our partners in Israel,” he later said.

State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks during a news conference at the State Department, on Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, Pool)

US President Joe Biden’s administration has offered to return to the agreement, under which Iran was promised sanctions relief for curbing its nuclear program, but has voiced frustration at the slow pace of negotiations.

In Tehran, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said that more than one issue was pending between Iran and the US.

“Messages [from Washington] sent through [European Union coordinator Enrique] Mora these past weeks… are far from providing solutions that could lead to an accord,” he told reporters.

“The United States are responsible for these delays because they are taking their time to give replies” that would be suitable for Iran, he said.

Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration had decided to reject the Iranian demand regarding the IRGC, citing an unnamed senior administration official. Axios subsequently reported that while Biden is indeed leaning against delisting the Revolutionary Guard, he has not made a final decision.

Israel launched a public campaign against the move, warning against rewarding the group behind the deaths of thousands of American citizens. Supporters of the delisting say it is a pill worth swallowing to ensure a revival of the JCPOA given that it would be largely symbolic and significant economic sanctions against the IRGC would remain.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hopes a decision to delist would be a “dealbreaker” for Iran, sinking the Vienna talks completely, a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office said shortly after the Washington Post report.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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