With a deal deadlocked over IRGC blacklist issue, U.S. holds off on counter proposal
The Biden administration has apparently decided not to send a counter proposal to Iran containing ideas for how to close the final outstanding issues to restore nuclear pact.
The Biden administration has apparently decided not to send a counter proposal to Iran containing ideas for how to close the final outstanding issues to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a source close to the talks said.
Asked about this, a senior US administration official deflected, saying they won’t negotiate in public.
“The President has made clear he’ll do what’s in the best interest of U.S. security,” the senior administration official, speaking not for attribution, told me today (April 15). “And the onus here is really on Iran at this stage, particularly on this issue.”
After a year of negotiations, a draft deal on restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear pact is basically done, but the US and Iran are deadlocked on a non-nuclear issue: An Iranian request that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) be removed from the State Department’s foreign terror organization (FTO) blacklist.
While last week the U.S. had been expected to send a response to an Iranian proposal brought to Washington by European Union coordinator Enrique Mora late last month, I reported last week (April 8) that the EU was still waiting for the US counterproposal. Since then, the White House has apparently decided not to offer a response.
“The political space for offering a counter-proposal has shrunk significantly in the past few weeks,” Ali Vaez, director of the Iran program at the International Crisis Group, told me today.
“That means that Iran would either get a deal with the IRGC remaining on the FTO list, or no deal,” Vaez continued. “I also think it is highly unlikely that Iran will surrender on this issue.”
“I think it is the political side of the administration that is reluctant to pay the price and is not fully aware of the medium term political and long term strategic costs of allowing the deal to collapse,” a source close to the talks said.
Vaez said he is disappointed that the administration is not considering a possible middle ground solution: to delist the IRGC and re-designate the IRGC Qods force.
Other than the Qods force, the IRGC is not really active outside of Iran, Vaez said. And internally in Iran, the parts of the IRGC that are problematic are already under heavy US sanctions, he said.
The Bush administration put the IRGC Qods force on the Treasury Department specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) black list in 2007. The Trump administration put the whole IRGC on the SDGT list in 2017. It added the IRGC to the State Department FTO list in April 2019.
Israel’s ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog on Thursday rejected a question asking if Israel was trying to spoil restoration of the nuclear deal by raising the political costs on the Biden administration to pressure it not to delist the IRGC from the FTO black list.
“On the FTO [issue], I have yet to hear an explanation why, when you do a nuclear deal, you would take a decision on a terror list,” Herzog said at a breakfast hosted by Al-Monitor on Thursday. “What's the connection … Someone has to explain that to me. I have not yet [heard] any good and convincing explanation on that.”
Herzog said he does not think the issue is only symbolic. “It also has practical significance,” he said. Removing the IRGC from the FTO list “sends the wrong message to all parts of the world.”
An umbrella group of the leaders of several major Jewish American organizations issued a statement later Thursday echoing some of the Israel envoy’s arguments.
“We are deeply concerned about news media reports regarding components of a renewed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran,” Dianne Lob, Chair, William Daroff, CEO, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Vice Chair, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said in a statement Thursday.
“Some contend that the Foreign Terrorist Organization list is purely symbolic, it is not: the FTO list expressly prohibits providing material support to listed terrorist organizations,” the Conference of Presidents statement continued. “Removing the IRGC restriction would give an explicit green light for bad actors to help Iran achieve its violent goals.”
The State Department on Thursday also shot down Iranian media rumors from earlier in the week suggesting that a deal could be imminent under which Iran could gain access to some of its funds in a third country, possibly in exchange for the release of four US citizen detainees.
“The fact is, unfortunately, we don’t have any breakthrough to announce,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told journalists at the State Department press briefing Thursday (April 14). “We know there’s been a lot of false information out there. We urge everyone to exercise caution with these reports.”
“There are two parallel tracks that are underway with Iran, one, as we’ve talked about in the context of Vienna for mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA, and one on the release of all four U.S. citizens who are unjustly held in Iran,” Price continued.
“Unfortunately, at this stage, neither of these negotiations has been successfully concluded,” he said. “We are continuing to approach both of these negotiations with the utmost urgency. We urge Iran to do the same. We urge Iran to allow U.S. citizens Baquer and Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, and Morad Tahbaz to return home to their loved ones.”
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