PM and FM pleading with US to retain IRGC terror designation

US ready to make ‘tough decisions’ to revive Iran nuclear deal, official says

Comments come amid profound public concern by Israel’s leaders over reports Washington willing to delist Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as terror group under renewed accord

Revolutionary Guard troops attend a military parade marking the 39th anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war, in front of the shrine of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, on September 22, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
Revolutionary Guard troops attend a military parade marking the 39th anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war, in front of the shrine of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, just outside Tehran, Iran, on September 22, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

Amid pressure from Israel over the reported possibility that Washington could remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its terror blacklist, a State Department official told The Times of Israel on Saturday that the US was ready to make “difficult decisions” in order to revive the nuclear deal with Iran.

Reports in recent days have indicated that Iran is demanding the IRGC designation be removed as a condition to its return to the 2015 accord. Former US president Donald Trump added the Guards to the blacklist in 2019, in what was seen as a largely symbolic move. Nonetheless, its potential removal has deeply discomfited Israeli leaders.

“We are not negotiating in public and are not going to respond to specific claims about what sanctions we would be prepared to lift as part of a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the State Department official said, using the official acronym for the nuclear deal.

But, he said, “We are prepared to make difficult decisions to return Iran’s nuclear program to JCPOA limits. An unrestricted Iranian nuclear program has led to an escalating nuclear crisis and to greatly increased threats to US citizens, interests, and partners in the region.”

His comments came after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, in an unusually detailed and emotive statement, urged the US not to delist the IRGC as a terror organization on Friday.

“The Revolutionary Guards are a terrorist organization that has murdered thousands of people, including Americans. We have a hard time believing that the United States will remove it from the definition of a terrorist organization,” Bennett and Lapid said in their joint statement. “We believe that the United States will not abandon its closest allies in exchange for empty promises from terrorists.”

Axios reported Wednesday that the administration of US President Joe Biden was considering the move, and in return, Tehran would commit to de-escalation in the region.

Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid (left) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on November 3, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

The US official said Saturday that Israel and America “share a common interest: seeing to it that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. We’ve been clear that a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA is the best diplomatic path forward and the best way to achieve this objective.”

He stressed that Washington “will retain and aggressively use our powerful tools” to address Iran’s regional aggression, “and especially to counter the IRGC, in concert with our Allies and partners.”

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)

Washington said Wednesday it was “close” to a deal with Iran on reviving the 2015 pact that saw Western powers provide sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program, the latest sign of advancement following prolonged deadlock.

Days after Russian demands seemed to jeopardize talks in Vienna over restoring the pact, this week has seen multiple signals that an accord may be within reach, including the release of two British Iranians Wednesday after years of detention in Iran, and word that outstanding issues have narrowed to just two.

The negotiations began last April between Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran, and Russia, with the US taking part indirectly.

Iran said Wednesday there were two remaining sticking points in Vienna, including an “economic guarantee” in case a future US administration repeats Trump’s abrogation.

Another source close to the talks said the other issue was the status of the IRGC.

US President Joe Biden announces a ban on Russian oil imports, toughening the toll on Russia’s economy in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine, on March 8, 2022, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Israeli officials quoted by Walla said the Biden administration had informed Israel’s government that the possibility of delisting the IRGC was being considered.

However, senior officials in the Biden administration, according to Walla, have told their Israeli counterparts that the president has not yet made a final decision on the issue.

The Israeli officials also told Walla that they are very concerned about such an American move, and especially the fact that the US reportedly demands from Iran only a general commitment to calm its aggression in the region, and does not require it to commit not to attack American targets or US allies, including Israel.

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