‘We have to be open to’ lifting terror label on Iran military wing: Republican senator

June 1, 2022 - 20:38

TEHRAN - As the negotiations to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal drag on in a stalemate, one of the main sticking points has reportedly been Iran’s demand that its Islamic Revolution Guard Corps be removed from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations, Responsible Statecraft reported on May 25.

One of the primary obstacles standing in the way of the Biden administration moving forward with that concession is its fear of domestic political blowback. But one Republican U.S. senator said during a hearing on May 25  that U.S. negotiators need to seriously consider it. 

“I think we have to be open to it,” Sen. Rand Paul told President Biden’s Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, adding that he thinks — given the likely domestic political attacks Biden will be forced to endure for delisting the IRGC — any proposals for what the United States asks for in return should be made public. 

“I think it’s important that if we do want negotiations and the only way we’re going to get any behavioral change is through negotiations, … actually lessening sanctions is the only way you get it,” Paul said. “So even things such as labeling them as a foreign terrorist organization have to be negotiated.”

The Trump administration designated the IRGC a terror group as part of its failed “maximum pressure” campaign primarily, as its advocates have openly admitted, to serve as a poison pill aimed at making it politically more difficult for any future administration to return to the JCPOA. Indeed, the Senate passed a non-binding measure earlier this month prohibiting President Biden from delisting the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.

“Trump was the arsonist who tried to burn down the nuclear deal, but Biden has just lingered around the scene of the crime rather than put out the fire.”

Experts have noted that the designation is purely symbolic and that delisting the IRGC would have little or no practical consequences, a point that Sen. Paul echoed during the hearing. 

“I think people should realize that even if we got rid of the foreign terrorist organization label, the IRGC has been … under sanctions at least since 2007 for funding Hezbollah in Lebanon, so there still would be sanctions,” he noted, adding, “But we have to at least think this through. The only way you get anywhere is you have to give something they want and they give something we want.” 

Malley also appeared to contradict reporting this week that President Biden has made a final decision not to remove the IRGC as an FTO, suggesting that the door may still be open to resolving the issue if the Iranians are willing to make concessions in return. 

“We made clear to Iran that if they wanted any concession on something that was unrelated to the JCPOA, like the FTO designation, we needed something reciprocal from them that would address our concerns,” he said. “Iran has made the decision that it’s not prepared to take the reciprocal step.”

Biden has fallen into Trump’s Iran trap

In a commentary for the Responsible Statecraft published on May 19, Ryan Costello, an American politician and former member of the House of Representatives from the Republican Party, wrote “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran has clearly failed, but Biden seems to fear “political blowback” if he makes certain concessions to rejoin the JCPOA.

“It is August 2022 and the Biden administration is still focused on Ukraine as the war there enters its seventh month. The Biden administration and the Democrats are increasingly worried about their grim prospects in the upcoming midterm elections. And lurking behind these dire scenarios, the United States and Iran have been operating in a tense truce for months in the absence of a nuclear deal,” Costello commented.

He added, “Iran has abstained from weapons grade enrichment while the Biden team has declined to reduce or rigidly enforce the Trump-era sanctions they inherited. There is still some discussion of reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but for all intents and purposes it is in a coma, never to be revived. President Biden and his advisers believe if they can just get through to the midterms, they’ll finally move to resolve that pesky Iran file.”

The former Republican Congressman went to say, “Assuming the Biden administration and Iran fail to clear the last hurdle in the nuclear negotiations, which is in fact a Trump-era poison pill that was designed to push Iran out of compliance with the deal and block a Democratic administration from restoring it, a crisis could be sparked from any number of directions.”

Costello also said it is “a frustrating state of affairs for the president who campaigned on restoring U.S. and Iranian compliance with the nuclear agreement, and who also voiced support for easing the impact of sanctions on ordinary Iranians struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic” has failed to resurrect the hard-won agreement.

“The Biden administration has never found the time or political will to resolve the stand-off, beginning with his first day in office when he failed to make any move — symbolic or otherwise — to break with President Trump’s maximum pressure approach,” the politician says. 

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell believes it will become more difficult to revive the nuclear agreement if more time passes.

The talks to revive the 2015 nuclear accord started in April last year.

“While Biden has kept sanctions in place, Iran’s nuclear program has steadily advanced to new heights, spurred on by Israeli sabotage in 2021 that Biden failed to stop. And now the negotiations have become stuck on a largely symbolic sanction that was expressly intended to interfere with Biden’s diplomacy.

“Restoring the JCPOA is still the position supported by the vast majority of the American public and the Democratic caucus, but as the midterms approach, elements in his party will get more nervous about the politics surrounding the agreement, even though it is a fight Biden and his supporters would win,” stated the former House representative from who represented Pennsylvania.

He also likened Trump to an arsonist who sought to completely destroy the JCPOA.

“Trump was the arsonist who tried to burn down the nuclear deal, but Biden has just lingered around the scene of the crime rather than put out the fire.”

He concluded, “There’s a good deal on the table, if Biden can find the courage to save it.”

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