Pressure grows on Biden to keep Iran's Revolutionary Guard on terror list

In negotiations to revive nuclear deal, Iran has demanded the U.S. remove the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Updated: April 12, 2022 - 11:56pm

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More than 500 Iranian American scholars, scientists, and professionals are urging President Biden not to lift the terrorist designation of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in order to close a new nuclear deal with Iran, warning such a move would fuel the Iranian regime's aggression abroad and oppression at home.

The group of Iranian Americans on Tuesday signed an open letter to Biden in which they said removing the IRGC, an Iranian military force, from the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list would pose a "direct threat to the advancement of democracy" and embolden the regime.

"The IRGC is the tool of terrorism abroad and repression of people on the streets of Iran," the letter states. "This instrument of terror safeguards the religious dictatorship in Iran, and continues to impede all progress toward human rights."

Dozens of security experts and former U.S. officials signed a separate open letter on Monday arguing removing the IRGC from the FTO would endanger Americans and U.S. allies. Fourteen Republican senators, led by Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, also wrote to the White House with the same message: The IRGC is a terrorist organization and should remain on the FTO.

The U.S. has designated and sanctioned the IRGC over the past several years for abusing human rights inside Iran, supporting terrorist groups across the Middle East, and assisting Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

"It is certainly noteworthy that the IRGC has not shown the slightest indication of good faith efforts in halting malign behavior or advancing democratic institutions," the letter from the Iranian American community reads. "To the contrary, the IRGC is playing a bigger role in creating proxy naval terror units, employing UAVs for terror operations, and funding terrorism around the globe."

The State Department and U.S. intelligence community have for years labeled Iran the world's "foremost state sponsor of terrorism," largely because of the IRGC's activities. In 2019, the Trump administration designated the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization, saying it "actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft."

"When it comes to the IRGC's terrorism and violence, domestically and internationally, their record is clear to us, the Iranian people, and the American public," Dr. Shahin Toutounchi, one of the organizers of the letter, told Just the News. "They are a threat to America's national security."

Iran is now demanding the Biden administration remove the IRGC from the FTO, saying it's a necessary condition for reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, which placed temporary curbs on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting large-scale sanctions on Tehran.

Former President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal in 2018. Since the early days of the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden and his top advisers have said one of their top priorities is reviving the accord.

Talks to reach a deal have been stalled since last month, with both Iran and the U.S. blaming the other for not making the necessary political decisions to settle the remaining issues, especially the current impasse over the FTO designation.

The Biden administration has been considering for weeks whether to meet Iran's FTO demand and has reportedly made proposals to break the impasse, to no avail, according to an Axios report.

Experts have warned Biden against acceding to Iran's demand, saying doing so would empower the Iranian regime and have devastating effects on the U.S. and its allies.

The signers of Tuesday's letter agree.

"The FTO designation has effectively handicapped many of the IRGC-related foreign financial transactions, and therefore its ability to export terrorism and impose repression," the letter says.

The Biden administration has indicated it won't agree to remove the IRGC in its entirety from the FTO — but may have left itself some wiggle room.

Indeed, a senior administration official told the Washington Post on Friday that Biden plans to reject Iran's demand. The official's comment came two days after Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged the IRGC is a terrorist organization.

However, some observers fear the administration will try to strike some sort of compromise, perhaps by delisting all components of the IRGC except for its elite Quds Force, which provides money, weapons, and training to several militias and proxies outside Iran. A State Department spokesperson said Friday that Biden "shares the view" that "IRGC Quds Forces are terrorists," but didn't clarify whether that view applied to the IRGC as a whole.   

"IRGC is Quds Force, and Quds Force is IRGC: They operate as one unit, and taking one off the list while leaving the other on is a dangerous proposition," said Toutounchi.

"Any compromise with this terrorist regime will only embolden them to conduct more violence at home and abroad," he added.

Inside Iran, the IRGC wields significant political clout and is deeply entrenched in all aspects of the Iranian economy, putting it in a prime position to benefit if a nuclear deal is finalized and sanctions are lifted. Experts believe much of the cash windfall received by Iran will go to the IRGC, which will in turn send much of that money to the terrorist groups it supports.

Another organizer of Tuesday's letter, Sima Yazdani, told Just the News that the 500-plus signatories are asking Biden "to stand with the people of Iran" and reject concessions to Tehran.

"Only a firm policy with this regime will end the cycle of violence and terror by the IRGC," she said. "The world community is heeding the call of the Ukrainian people on their fight for freedom. Why not afford the people of Iran the same approach?"