More than 500 Iranian American scientists, scholars and industry executives are urging the White House not to remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the U.S. foreign terrorism list, a key demand by Tehran for reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.
In a letter to President Biden on Tuesday, the group said removing the IRGC from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) would go “against the will and interest of the Iranian people” and would be “a direct threat to the advancement of democracy.”
“The IRGC is the tool of terrorism abroad and repression of people on the streets of Iran,” said the signatories, led by the Iranian Professionals’ Ad Hoc Committee on Iran Policy. “This instrument of terror safeguards the religious dictatorship in Iran, and continues to impede all progress towards human rights.”
The administration has been mired in months of stalled negotiations with Tehran over restoring the 2015 deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, meant to shorten Iran’s strides toward nuclear armament.
President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that had been lifted as part of the Obama-era accord.
In 2019, the Trump administration formally designated the IRGC as an FTO, citing the military group’s “active and enthusiastic participant in acts of terror,” including the bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut and the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. airmen. Iran-backed groups also have been involved in the targeting of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Tehran has demanded that the administration remove sanctions as stipulated in the original deal in exchange for curbing its nuclear program, in addition to de-listing the IRGC as an FTO, with the latter remaining a key sticking point with the administration.
“The fact that the regime has raised this condition in a nuclear negotiation should give all observers pause,” said Shahin Toutounchi, one of the letter’s signatories. “What is so important about the IRGC that the regime risks an agreement on it? The IRGC is not just a piece of this regime, it is a regime.”
In an interview with NBC News last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that the IRGC is a terrorist organization but declined to “go into the details of where we are on the negotiations.”
“I would say simply that I’m not overly optimistic at the prospects of actually getting an agreement to conclusion, despite all the efforts we put into it and despite the fact that I believe we would be — our security would be better off,” Mr. Blinken said. “We’re not there.”
President Biden reportedly gave signs later in the week that the demand to remove the IRGC from the blacklist would be a deal-breaker.
“The onus is on Iran as to whether we have a nuclear deal,” a senior administration official told The Washington Post late last week. “The president will stick to core principles. The Iranians know our views.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have eyed the administration’s attempts to reenter the deal with skepticism and have criticized the administration for keeping details of the negotiations close to the vest.
Republicans, especially, have argued that a return to the deal would not stop Iran’s advance toward a nuclear weapon, saying that Iran’s violations of previous agreements should bar any further negotiations.
Kazem Kazerounian, dean of engineering at the University of Connecticut and one of the main organizers of Tuesday’s letter, said he welcomes Mr. Biden’s opposition to the demand but said the signatories “remain vigilant and concerned about any concession toward Tehran’s terrorist regime.”
“More than ever, global efforts in protecting civilians and defending a free world are paramount,” the group wrote. “It is critical that the administration maintains its current posture towards the IRCG, and extend the sanctions to include its front companies. Removing IRGC from the FTO list will be a blatant disregard to the hope and legitimate struggle of Iranians in their struggle for freedom and dignity.”