Iran nuclear talks deadlock on terrorism issue

Since talks adjourned in Vienna last month, European participants have shuttled between Washington and Tehran in a fruitless search for accommodation on both sides. ‘At this point, nothing mutually agreeable’ has been offered, according to a US official knowledgeable on the matter who, like others, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate diplomatic and political issue .

Whether the United States will back down in any way is up to President Biden, and “the president hasn’t made a decision,” the official said. “Politically, we know this is an extremely difficult step to take. For now, chief US negotiator Robert Malley told a foreign policy forum last weekend that success “isn’t just around the corner, or inevitable.”

Those beyond inner circles in the two capitals are increasingly worried. “We have to conclude this negotiation. Much is at stake,” Enrique Mora, the European Union’s deputy foreign policy chief wrote on Twitter last week ahead of visits to Washington and Tehran earlier this week. The EU is coordinating talks between Iran and the other signatories to the original 2015 agreement, namely Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

Although the talks essentially involve Iran and the United States, which withdrew from the agreement in 2018, Tehran has refused to speak directly to the Biden administration, which is technically only an indirect participant, s addressing Iran through the Europeans.

While there are still a handful of other less contentious issues to be settled, people familiar with the matter said the disagreement now revolves almost entirely around the issue of the Revolutionary Guard Corps. The United States’ earlier review of an Iranian public statement disavowing regional aggression, in exchange for delisting terrorism, is no longer on the table, the people said.

For the administration, the biggest obstacle to lifting the designation is the likely reaction in Congress, where the delisting issue has only heightened considerable bipartisan opposition to any renewed deal with Iran. In briefings and meetings with lawmakers in recent weeks, Malley and Brett McGurk, the Middle East coordinator at the National Security Council, have described what they believe to be the negligible effect of the radiation, as well than the danger of not concluding an agreement.

The Revolutionary Guard Corps and its leaders are under a host of other state and Treasury Department terrorism sanctions that would remain in place, including Iran as one of four countries. on the official US list of state sponsors of terrorism. Regardless of what happens in the negotiations, Malley told the weekend conference in Qatar, the Revolutionary Guard Corps “will remain sanctioned by American law and our policies, and our perception” of it. “will not change”.

Speaking at the same forum, Kamal Kharazi, Iran’s former foreign minister and current adviser to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said the Revolutionary Guard Corps “must definitely be removed” from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. When Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian indicated some flexibility in a recent TV interview, he quickly backtracked, saying in an Instagram post that the issue was a “red line” for Iran.

The designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization has enormous symbolic significance for both Iran and the United States. President Donald Trump announced the listing in April 2019, a year after he withdrew from the nuclear deal. The move was pushed by his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and his national security adviser, John Bolton, as part of what Trump called his “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Iran.

At the time, it was also widely seen as Trump’s attempt to boost the electoral chances of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who campaigned on security issues but nevertheless failed the following day to garner enough votes to form a government.

The listing of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite wing of the Iranian military responsible for its regional activities in Iraq and elsewhere, remains the only time the United States has so labeled a part of the government. from another country. While the measure has been welcomed by some lawmakers, a number of commentators and sanctions experts have argued that it unnecessarily sets a bad precedent and is likely to increase, rather than decrease, Iranian aggression.

Promoting negotiations to return to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, the Biden administration argued that Trump’s withdrawal from the deal, which sharply limited Iran’s nuclear activities and the placed under international surveillance in exchange for the lifting of US nuclear sanctions. , has undermined US security by bringing Iran closer than ever to producing a nuclear weapon.

“This is no longer a thought experiment. What if the nuclear chains of the JCPOA were lifted and we tried something different…in the form of maximum pressure? State, Ned Price, said Thursday.The Trump administration, he said, promised “a so-called better deal with Iran, an Iran whose proxies were intimidated…whose support for terrorism would be diminished…whose ballistic missile program would be verified, all of these things have proven to not only not be true, but in almost all cases the exact opposite has come to pass.

At the same time, while continuing to deny that it is seeking a nuclear bomb, Iran has dramatically increased the quality and quantity of uranium enrichment and it is believed that there are only weeks left before Assemble enough to power a weapon. He expanded other aggressive activity even as Trump reimposed sanctions that had been lifted by the Iran deal and imposed more than 1,500 more. Between 2019 and 2020, Price said, the number of attacks on US personnel and facilities in Iraq by Iran-backed groups “increased by 400 percent.”

Much of the Vienna talks over the past year have been devoted to disagreements between Iran’s insistence on the lifting of all US sanctions and the administration’s insistence that a return to the he agreement only concerned those who were “nuclear-related”. These issues, along with issues of sequencing and unfreezing certain Iranian assets, are now largely resolved.

But as word spread that the biggest issue left on the table was the terrorist designation of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, opponents of the deal, including virtually all Republicans, vowed to redouble their efforts to halt the deal, and a number of Democrats have expressed concerns.

“We are very concerned about reports indicating the potential lifting” of the Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign terrorist organization designation, a bipartisan group of 21 House members wrote to Biden last month, saying the combination to “fail to adequately address Iran’s role as a primary state sponsor of terrorism”, and providing billions of dollars in sanctions relief would provide “a clear path for Iranian proxies to continue fueling terrorism” .

Any administration action is further complicated by reported U.S. intelligence indicating ongoing Iranian plots to target Pompeo and other former U.S. officials whom Tehran holds responsible for the 2020 drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, the branch of the Revolutionary Guard Corps specializing in unconventional warfare. But others have warned that Iranian and US leaders have “painted themselves into a corner” by allowing the issue to become what could ultimately kill any prospect of a deal.

“Failure to close the nuclear deal will most likely lead to an unpredictable and possibly uncontrollable escalation, and almost certainly to a spike in oil and gas prices,” Trita Parsi, an Iranian expert and vice president, wrote on Thursday. Executive of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. “The political costs to the United States and Iran of delisting” the Revolutionary Guard Corps or “dropping the delisting request, respectively, pale in comparison.”

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