US ready to make ‘tough decisions’ to revive Iran nuclear deal, official says

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Under pressure from Israel over the reported possibility that Washington could remove Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its terror blacklist, a State Department official told the Times of Israel on Saturday that the U.S. was ready to “solve difficult… to make decisions” to make them revive the nuclear deal with Iran.

Reports over the past few days suggest that Iran is asking for its IRGC designation to be revoked as a condition of its return to the 2015 deal. Former US President Donald Trump blacklisted the Guards in 2019 in what was seen as a largely symbolic move. Nonetheless, its possible removal has deeply unsettled the Israeli leadership.

“We do not negotiate publicly and will not respond to specific claims about what sanctions we would be willing to lift as part of a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the State Department official said, using the official acronym for the nuclear deal.

But he said: “We are ready to make tough decisions to bring Iran’s nuclear program back to the limits of the JCPOA.” An unrestricted Iranian nuclear program has resulted in an escalating nuclear crisis and greatly increased threats to US citizens, interests and partners in the region.”

His comments came after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid issued an unusually detailed and emotional statement on Friday urging the US not to remove the IRGC from the list of terrorist organizations.

“The Revolutionary Guards are a terrorist organization that has murdered thousands of people, including Americans. We find it hard to believe that the United States will remove them from the definition of a terrorist organization,” Bennett and Lapid said in their joint statement. “We believe that the United States will not abandon its closest allies in exchange for empty promises from terrorists.”

Axios reported on Wednesday that US President Joe Biden’s administration is considering a move in exchange for Tehran’s commitment to de-escalation in the region.

Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid (left) and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on November 3, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

The US official said Saturday that Israel and America “have a common interest: to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.” We realized that a joint return to full implementation of the JCPOA is the best diplomatic way forward and the best way to achieve that goal.”

He stressed that Washington “will maintain and aggressively use our powerful tools” to address Iran’s regional aggression “and particularly to work with our allies and partners to counter the IRGC.”

Television cameras outside the ‘Grand Hotel Vienna’ where nuclear talks are taking place behind closed doors on June 20, 2021 in Vienna, Austria. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

Washington said on Wednesday it was “close” to a deal with Iran to revive the 2015 pact under which western powers provided sanctions relief in exchange for containing Tehran’s nuclear program, the latest sign of progress after a prolonged stalemate.

Days after Russian demands seemed to jeopardize talks in Vienna to restore the pact, there were several signals this week that a deal could be within reach, including the release on Wednesday of two British Iranians after years in prison in Iran and the Message that outstanding issues are limited to just two.

Negotiations began last April between the UK, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia, with the US indirectly participating.

Iran on Wednesday said there were two remaining sticking points in Vienna, including an “economic guarantee” in case a future US administration repeats Trump’s ouster.

Another source close to the talks said the other issue was the status of the IRGC.

US President Joe Biden announces a ban on Russian oil imports in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on March 8, 2022 in Washington, DC, increasing the strain on the Russian economy in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Israeli officials quoted by Walla said the Biden administration had informed the Israeli government that the possibility of delisting the IRGC was being considered.

However, according to Walla, senior officials in the Biden administration have told their Israeli counterparts that the president has yet to make a final decision on the matter.

Israeli officials also told Walla they were very concerned by such an American move and in particular by the fact that the US is reportedly only requiring Iran to make a general commitment to calm its aggression in the region, not requiring it to committed not to attack American targets or US allies, including Israel.

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