US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has sought to reassure Israel and its Gulf allies that Iran will never acquire atomic weapons ahead of the possible renewal of the nuclear deal with Tehran.
“On the most important element, we agree,” Blinken said at a Sunday press conference with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. “We are both determined, both determined that Iran will never acquire nuclear weapons.”
Blinken’s comments came ahead of a meeting with four Arab foreign ministers at an extraordinary summit hosted by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett – an event that in itself shows how the landscape of Israel’s relations with some Arab states has transformed over the past 18 months, driven in part by fears of an imminent end to Iran’s economic isolation.
The United States also sought to reassure the ad hoc alliance that Washington would not agree to Iran’s demand that the United States lift its designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in as a foreign terrorist organization.
Speaking at the Doha forum in Qatar, Robert Malley, the US special envoy on Iran, said: “This is not a deal that is about solving this problem. Many in the region view the IRGC the same way we view them. I can tell you that the IRGC will remain sanctioned by US law, and our perceptions, our views, our policy towards the IRGC have not changed.
A senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader insisted earlier at the same event that the IRGC’s withdrawal of sanctions was a precondition for reviving the 2015 nuclear deal. Talks on the deal are underway for almost a year in Vienna.
“The IRGC is the national army and the national army cannot be listed as a terrorist group,” said Sayyid Kamal Kharrazi. “The reality is that the IRGC is very important to Iran and they won’t compromise on that.”
The IRGC is a centerpiece of the Iranian regime’s power base, and its activities in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria have, in Iran’s eyes, played a central role in reducing the influence of the IRGC. Islamist terrorism, the United States and the Gulf monarchies that depend on the United States. for their power.
The body has been designated a terrorist organization since 2019 and faced sanctions in 2017, but its activities in the Middle East have been kept under wraps by Iran, which has insisted the agenda should be focused only on the terms of America’s return to the nuclear deal.
The United States withdrew from the deal in 2018, leading Iran in stages to reduce its own commitments under the deal, including expanding its ability to enrich uranium.
Malley said the Biden administration could not promise the United States under its watch would stay in the deal as long as Iran met its terms.
Kharrazi said there were 500 other individuals and institutions under U.S. sanctions that had a “direct impact” on Iran’s relations with the West, and called on the United States to take action against them. topic as well.
Kharrazi, a former foreign minister, is the chairman of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations in Tehran and his views are closely aligned with those of the Iranian regime.
Malley declined to be optimistic about a deal, saying: “We’ve been quite close for some time and I think that tells you how difficult the issues are that remain.”
Also on Sunday, the EU coordinator for the nuclear talks met Iran’s foreign minister and chief negotiator. “Working to fill remaining gaps in #ViennaTalks,” EU diplomat Enrique Mora tweeted ahead of his trip. “We have to conclude this negotiation. A lot is at stake.”
In the United States, Republican and Democratic senators are meeting this week to form an alliance to block any recognition of the IRGC or lifting of sanctions against the organization.
In a joint statement last week, Israel’s prime minister and foreign minister said: “The IRGC is a terrorist organization that has murdered thousands of people, including Americans. We refuse to believe that the United States would withdraw its designation as a terrorist organization. The IRGC is Hezbollah in Lebanon, Jihad in Gaza, it’s the Houthis in Yemen, it’s the militias in Iraq. They kill Jews because they are Jews, they kill Christians because they are Christians and Muslims because they refuse to surrender to them.
Speaking in Israel, Blinken nonetheless defended the principle of trying to revive the Iran nuclear deal, saying: “The United States believes that a return to full implementation of the deal is the best way to put Iran’s nuclear program back in the box it was in. , but from which he has escaped since the United States withdrew from this agreement.
“But whether there is a deal or not, our commitment to the fundamental principle that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon is unwavering. And one way or another, we will continue to coordinate closely with our Israeli partners on the way forward.
The Doha summit also brought together foreign ministers from Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.
Malley revealed that the British took on the task of negotiating the release of dual American nationals still being held in Iran, including Morad Tabhaz, the trinational who was not released almost a fortnight ago with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Roxanne Tahbaz, her daughter, has accused British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss of betraying her family.
When Tahbaz was allowed out on leave, the family complained about the number of armed guards accompanying him. He was later returned to Evin prison, but was later moved to a hotel in Tehran after representations from the British and US governments, the Foreign Office said.