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US: Iran Must Address Concerns if it Wants to Negotiate Lifting of Sanctions

A worker rides a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran, Oct. 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour, file)

JERUSALEM, Israel – The Biden administration on Monday appeared to reject a key Iranian demand to unilaterally remove the country’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from a terror blacklist to salvage the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.

Washington and Tehran have spent months negotiating indirectly in Vienna to save the nuclear accord, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, talks to restore the deal are stalled, largely over Iran’s deal-breaker demand that Washington remove the IRGC from a US terror blacklist. The designation of the IRGC on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations was not part of the original nuclear deal.

“If Iran wants sanctions-lifting that goes beyond the JCPOA, they’ll need to address concerns of ours that go beyond the JCPOA,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington on Monday. “If they do not want to use these talks to resolve other bilateral issues, then we are confident we can very quickly reach an understanding on the JCPOA and begin to reimplement the deal itself. It is Iran that needs to make this decision.”

Price did not explicitly confirm whether the US had officially rejected Iran’s demand, but his characterization of the matter as a separate issue from the nuclear negotiations appeared to put to rest the possibility that Washington will unilaterally delist the IRGC to save the accord.

Advocates of delisting the IRGC argue that doing so will have little effect because other sanctions would remain on the group. That’s because the IRGC would still be sanctioned as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” (SDGT) on a separate US terror blacklist created after the 9/11 attacks.

Israel opposes delisting the IRGC, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said such a move is “too high a price” to save the nuclear accord.

Price called Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism” and reiterated Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security.

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“[Iran’s] support for terrorism threatens international security and our partners throughout the region and elsewhere. Of course, that includes Israel. This administration’s commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct. We have demonstrated that in a number of ways and in cooperation with our allies and regional partners including Israel. We will use every appropriate tool to confront the IRGC’s destabilizing role in the region including working closely with our partners in Israel,” said Price.

Iranian and American leaders have expressed doubt that a deal to salvage the nuclear accord will be reached.

“It is unclear to us whether we will be able to get there,” said Price. “That is why we’re preparing equally for scenarios in which there is a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA and scenarios in which there is not a mutual return to compliance for the JCPOA.”

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said multiple issues were stalling progress.

“Messages (from Washington) sent through (European Union coordinator Enrique) Mora these past weeks… are far from providing solutions that could lead to an accord,” he told reporters.

“The United States are responsible for these delays because they are taking their time to give replies” that would be suitable for Iran, he said.

It remains to be seen whether negotiators in Vienna will be able to restore the Iranian nuclear deal, which was designed to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. The accord, signed between Germany, China, Britain, France, Iran, Russia and the United States, placed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Former President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions.

Iran responded by increasing its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, bringing it closer than ever to obtaining a nuclear weapon.

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