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Washington to maintain sanctions on IRGC even with Iran nuclear deal, US envoy says

‘Perception’ of Iran’s Guards Corps to remain, despite Tehran conditioning revived nuclear deal on terror delisting; EU envoy in Tehran to hammer out remaining differences

In this Feb. 11, 2019 file photo, Iranian Revolutionary Guard members attend a ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, at the Azadi, or Freedom, Square in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this Feb. 11, 2019 file photo, Iranian Revolutionary Guard members attend a ceremony celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, at the Azadi, or Freedom, Square in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The United States will maintain sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards even if there is a deal to limit the country’s nuclear program, US special envoy Robert Malley said Sunday.

Iran has insisted that a revived nuclear accord, which diplomats say is close, is conditional on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) being taken off a US terrorist list.

But Malley, the US envoy for Iran talks, told a conference in Doha: “The IRGC will remain sanctioned under US law and our perception of the IRGC will remain.”

The Guards are on the list because of Iran’s action supporting the Syrian government, Yemen’s Huthi rebels and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives for a press conference with Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, March 27, 2022, at Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

In Jerusalem on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a carefully non-definitive answer when asked at a press conference whether the IRGC is a foreign terrorist organization. The IRGC, Blinken said, “is probably the most designated organization in one way or another in the world among organizations that we designate, including the foreign terrorist organization designation.”

Iran has been engaged in negotiations to revive the accord with Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia directly and the United States indirectly since April 2021.

But Malley cautioned at the Doha Forum of political and business leaders that a deal was not “inevitable” and not “just around the corner.”

US Special Representative for Iran, Robert Malley, participates in a panel at the Doha Forum in Qatar’s capital on March 27, 2022. (MARWAN TAHTAH / MOFA / DOHA FORUM)

“We’re pretty close,” he said of the negotiations, but added: “We’ve been pretty close now for some time. And I think that tells you all you need to know about the difficulty of the issues.”

Just before Malley spoke, Sayyid Kamal Kharrazi, a former Iranian foreign minister and now advisor to the country’s supreme leader, stressed the importance of the Guards — Iran’s ideological army.

“Yes it’s imminent but it depends on the political will of the United States,” Kharrazi said of the deal intended to replace one that the United States withdrew from in 2018.

“IRGC, certainly it has to be removed” from the terror blacklist, he said.

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

“The IRGC is the national army and the national army cannot be listed as a terrorist group,” he said.

The United States designated the Guards as a “foreign terrorist organization” under then-president Donald Trump in April 2019.

It came the year after Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Kharrazi also said Iran wanted guarantees that the United States would not withdraw again from the deal. Malley said there could be no guarantee after President Joe Biden’s term ends.

CNN Managing Editor and anchor, Becky Anderson moderates a panel with Iran’s former foreign affairs minister, Sayyid Kamal Kharrazi at the Doha Forum in Qatar’s capital, March 27, 2022. (MARWAN TAHTAH / MOFA / DOHA FORUM)

And while the potential delisting of the IRGC as a terrorist organization would have been primarily symbolic, it drew criticism from both Israeli ministers and American lawmakers who urged the Biden administration to reconsider.

“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,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a joint statement earlier this month.

“The attempt to delist the IRGC as a terrorist organization is an insult to the victims and would ignore documented reality supported by unequivocal evidence,” the statement added.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 27, 2022. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/POOL)

And in a letter addressed to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a group of 80 Congress members — led by Rep. Scott Franklin (Republican of Florida) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (Republican of New York) — said they “are united in strong opposition to any move to legitimize the IRGC’s reckless, destabilizing, and antisemitic actions through the Middle East.”

Blinken is in Israel for talks with Lapid as well as foreign ministers from four Arab countries — United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Egypt. The talks are expected to focus on Iran.

Meanwhile, the European Union’s coordinator for the Vienna talks, Enrique Mora, is in Tehran where he is hoping to find a way to hammer out remaining differences.

The meetings between EU envoy Mora and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani come at a sensitive moment for talks to revive the deal, as the glimmers of a resolution to some of the thorniest issues in the negotiations have emerged.

The report on the talks in Tehran gave scant detail, saying only that the diplomats discussed the latest on the nuclear agreement, with Kani repeating that Iran believed a deal was within reach if America was “realistic” in its demands.

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