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Top Iran diplomat says IRGC listing not holding up nuke deal, but ‘Zionist lobby’ is

Speaking in Davos, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian says lifting sanctions still main sticking point, accuses Israel of holding US foreign policy hostage to block agreement

Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during the 51st annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)
Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during the 51st annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

Iran’s Foreign Minister said Thursday that the continued US designation of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terror group was not holding up stalled nuclear talks as much as disagreements over the lifting of financial sanctions.

Speaking on stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian also accused US President Joe Biden of keeping his predecessor’s hardline policies in place, claiming that Israel and its supporters are holding US foreign policy “hostage.”

“The most important thing is that the economic sanctions need to be lifted in an effective way,” Amir-Abdollahian told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. “The most important thing is that the maximum pressure policy of the Trump era — the factors, the elements there — need to be removed.”

The comments came days after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Biden had informed him that the US would not take the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps off the US’s list of foreign terror organizations. Iranian demands for the removal of the IRGC had been a key sticking point in talks, but on Wednesday, the US point man on Iran, Rob Malley, said Iran’s refusal to make concessions in kind had made the removal impossible.

“What has caused the cessation in the talks is [the issue of] economic guarantees,” Amir-Abdollahian said. “We have not come to the point where we can trust the American side. We have not seen that the behavior is different from Trump’s approach.”

The Biden administration has sought to restore the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which former US president Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018, instead implementing a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign which was welcomed by Israel.

Tehran responded by gradually violating the terms of the deal, which offered Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. Talks have hit a standstill since April. Malley said Wednesday that chances for a deal were “tenuous.”

TV cameras in front of the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna,’ where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, on June 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

Amir-Abdollahian claimed that talks were held up because “the Zionist regime” and “Zionist lobby” were in control of US foreign policy decisions, utilizing a common antisemitic trope.

“If the American side decides realistically, then the deal is at hand, but this is something the Zionists don’t want to happen,” he said.

“We have intelligence that the Zionist regime, they have taken the foreign policy of the US hostage, the interest of the US hostage,” the diplomat added. “I think if the Zionist lobby distances itself from the national interests of the US, just a little, Mr. Biden will be able to make the decision required for reaching a good deal.”

Israel and the US say the IRGC, which is closely aligned with Iran’s hardline supreme leader, is a terror group responsible for attacks on Israelis and others around the world.

Illustrative: Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade, marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in the capital Tehran, on September 22, 2018. (AFP/STR)

Bennett this week called it “the world’s largest terror organization, involved in directing and executing deadly terror attacks and destabilizing the Middle East.”

Israel had launched a public campaign against delisting the IRGC, 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.

An unnamed intelligence official told The New York Times on Wednesday that Israeli officials had passed along information about the killing of a senior IRGC member on Sunday. Israeli officials were infuriated by the leak, which they blamed on the US.

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