Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June/July 2022, p. 59
THE NATIONAL Iranian American Council held a virtual event on May 10 to assess the obstacles to the U.S. and Iran finalizing a renewed nuclear deal. Negotiations to rejuvenate the multilateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), abdicated by the Trump administration, have been ongoing for more than a year.
A new deal is all but agreed upon, but Iran’s instance that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) be removed from the U.S.’ list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) is stalling talks.
Tyler Cullis, an attorney specializing in U.S. economic sanctions at Ferrari & Associates, said Iran always believed the IRGC would be removed from the terror list as part of any nuclear deal and is surprised the U.S. is dragging its feet on the matter. As such, Tehran is leery about dropping its request or offering Washington a concession in return. “It’s really hard for Iran to give something up that it thought it was getting,” Cullis commented.
The IRGC is the only military of a foreign country designated as a FTO by the U.S., as the list is typically reserved for non-state actors. The Trump administration made the unprecedented move of adding the group to the terrorist list in 2019 as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.
Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the Biden administration’s reluctance to rescind the designation is largely “a matter of politics, not policy.” The White House seems to be hoping for a way to reconstitute the nuclear deal without incurring political damage, she noted, even as it faces pushback on the proposed deal from Republicans and even a fair number of hawkish Democrats.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks the National Nuclear Technology Day exhibition at the International Conference Center in Tehran, on April 9, 2022. (IRANIAN PRESIDENCY/ANADOLU AGENCY VIA GETTY IMAGES)
“It does seem that President Biden wants to have a zero blowback policy on Iran,” Geranmayeh said, adding that she views such an aspiration as unrealistic. An Iran deal “is going to receive major political blowback for any U.S. president,” she opined.
Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, warned that if the White House keeps dragging its feet on solidifying a new deal, it risks matters much graver than political displeasure, such as Iran solidifying its nuclear weapons capabilities or the breakout of a war. In the absence of a deal, there is the “real risk of an escalatory spiral of actions leading to a broader conflict,” she cautioned.
The president, Davenport said, can either bite the political bullet and remove the IRGC’s terror designation, or “he can pay a far higher price for being the president that allowed Iran to come to the brink of a nuclear weapon, or started a war to try and stop that [nuclear breakout].”
With Iran advancing its nuclear capabilities, Washington must realize a new deal “is the best opportunity we have to roll back Iran’s nuclear program, to reintroduce intrusive monitoring and verification and to ensure that Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon remain verifiably blocked,” Davenport added.
The FTO designation is not the only tool the U.S. has to hinder the IRGC, Davenport noted, as there are currently a plethora of other sanctions applicable to the group. “We have other tools to push back against the IRGC,” she said. “We don’t have another good option to address the nuclear crisis.”
While Tehran and Washington are both signaling reluctance to budge on the matter of the IRGC’s FTO status, Geranmayeh said diplomats from the European Union and Qatar are working to find a creative solution. She said possibilities include the U.S. partially lifting the IRGC’s terrorist status, or the U.N. Security Council passing a measure regarding the IRGC that is acceptable to both Tehran and Washington.