Signals from the White House suggest that President Biden will not give in to Iran’s demand that the United States remove Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations as condition of a nuclear deal. But if Mr. Biden believes the IRGC is a terrorist organization, he must go further and withdraw his administration’s offer to lift terror sanctions against the group’s top financiers.
When news broke in March that Mr. Biden was considering Iran’s request to remove the IRGC from the list of foreign terrorist organizations, the White House faced outcry from Congress, allies in the Middle East, former US officials and Gold Star families whose loved ones were killed. by the IRGC in Iraq. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken if the IRGC was a terrorist organization. “They are,” replied Mr. Blinken.
The next day, at the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Mark Milley was confronted with the same question. “In my opinion, I believe that the IRGC’s Al-Quds Force is a terrorist organization, and I do not support delisting them from the list of foreign terrorist organizations,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The Quds Force is one of the many branches of the IRGC.
A State Department spokeswoman added last month that “the President shares the President’s view that the IRGC’s Quds Forces are terrorists.” A senior administration official told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius that the president “has no intention of backing down on the terrorist designation, even though it may be a dealbreaker,” according to Mr. Ignatius’ paraphrase. .
This sounds like clear statements that the IRGC belongs on the list, though they leave open the possibility of a related concession with a similar effect: the administration can remove the IRGC in its entirety from the terrorist list and replace it. by the narrower designation of the IRGC Quds Force – giving a free pass to the vast IRGC-controlled business empire that subsidizes Quds Force operations. Either way, given IRGC plots to assassinate current and former US officials, Mr Biden owes Congress an explanation for why he is proposing to pump billions of dollars into the Quds Force by lifting sanctions. terrorists against institutions that illegally fund the organization.
In 2018, the Treasury Department imposed terrorist sanctions on Iran’s Bank Melli and its subsidiaries and financial and business partners “for aiding, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support” to the Al-Quds Force. The department also imposed sanctions on Bank Tejarat for its financial support of Mahan Air, the force’s preferred airline for supporting terrorist operations.
Less than a year later, the Treasury revealed that the Al-Quds Force has been using the Central Bank of Iran to receive “the vast majority of its foreign currency” since at least 2016. The bank has also “facilitated the transfer of several billion US dollars and euros to the IRGC-QF” between 2018 and early 2019. The department imposed counter-terrorism sanctions on both the Central Bank of Iran and Iran’s sovereign wealth fund, the National Development Fund , which the Treasury described as a “slush fund for the IRGC-QF”. .”
US sanctions officials have not stopped digging. In 2020, the Treasury imposed terrorist sanctions on Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum, the national oil company, the tanker company, the petrochemical company and other energy entities, citing tens of millions of dollars that they directed towards the Quds Force.
The Biden administration has presented no evidence that the Central Bank of Iran, the National Iranian Oil Co., or other banks and companies have cut off their support for the IRGC or the Quds Force. The White House knows that these entities finance terrorism but still wants to lift the sanctions. The result? Facilitating the access and transfer of money from a terrorist organization, endangering the forces, interests and allies of the United States.
Biden’s chief negotiator for Iran, Robert Malley, previously proposed in April 2021 to lift US terrorism sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank and the country’s financial and energy sectors. His argument is that the sanctions were imposed illegitimately — that the Trump administration labeled the institutions terrorist entities simply to make it harder for a future administration to lift the sanctions as part of an eventual deal. nuclear. The Obama administration, however, has asserted that the United States retains the right to impose counterterrorism sanctions on Iran even under its 2015 nuclear deal.
Lawmakers must intervene. In 2017, while the US was still part of the Iran deal, Congress almost unanimously passed legislation imposing terrorism sanctions on the IRGC and its affiliates. They should do it again and ban Mr. Biden from lifting sanctions against Iranian institutions funding a terrorist organization’s plots against Americans.
The legislation is also expected to threaten sanctions against administrators of the Swift financial network if they reconnect Iran’s terror-sponsoring banks, including the central bank, to their system.
If the “IRGC Quds Forces are terrorists,” as Mr. Biden insists, the US should stop at nothing to deny them the resources to sponsor terrorism.
Mr. Goldberg is a Senior Advisor to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He was Director of the White House National Security Council for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction, 2019-20.
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