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US: Iran must offer ‘reciprocity’ if it wants to negotiate status of IRGC

State Department spokesman says that if Tehran wants to discuss issues beyond restoring nuclear deal, it needs to address US concerns

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps take part in a demonstration in Tehran on January 3, 2020, following the killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike on his convoy at Baghdad international airport. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps take part in a demonstration in Tehran on January 3, 2020, following the killing of IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani in a US strike on his convoy at Baghdad international airport. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The US on Monday appeared to reject the key Iranian demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from a terror blacklist in order for Tehran to return to compliance with the multilateral nuclear agreement the two sides reached in 2015.

Iran and the United States have been negotiating indirectly in Vienna for a year to restore the 2015 deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, after US president Donald Trump withdrew the US in 2018.

A key sticking point is Iran’s insistence on removing the designation made by the Trump administration that the IRGC — the clerical regime’s elite military unit with broad reach in the economy — is a terrorist organization.

“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 United States.

“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.

Mora, who coordinates the indirect US-Iran talks, visited Tehran last month for talks with Iranian officials and later went to Washington, saying he hoped to close the gaps in negotiations.

Trump reimposed sweeping sanctions, including demanding other nations not buy Iran’s oil, as he withdrew from the agreement negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Enrique Mora, a leading European Union diplomat, left, shakes hands with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani in Tehran, Iran, on March 27, 2022. (Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP)

Iran, in response, began rolling back on most of its commitments under the accord.

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.

AFP contributed to this report

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