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GOP Senator: 'We have to be open to' lifting terror label on Iran military wing

Delisting the IRGC is a remaining hurdle to reviving the nuclear deal and Rand Paul may have helped create space for Biden to get it done.

Reporting | Middle East

As the negotiations to re-enter the Iran nuclear deal drag on in a stalemate, one of the main sticking points has reportedly been Iran's demand that its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be removed from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. One of the primary obstacles standing in the way of the Biden administration moving forward with that concession is its fear of domestic political blowback. But one Republican U.S. senator said during a hearing on Wednesday that U.S. negotiators need to seriously consider it. 

“I think we have to be open to it,” Sen. Rand Paul told President Biden’s Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley, adding that he thinks — given the likely domestic political attacks Biden will be forced to endure for delisting the IRGC — any proposals for what the United States asks for in return should be made public. 

“I think it’s important that if we do want negotiations and the only way we’re going to get any behavioral change is through negotiations, … actually lessoning sanctions is the only way you get it,” Paul said. “So even things such as labeling them as a foreign terrorist organization have to be negotiated.”

The Trump administration designated the IRGC a terror group as part of its failed “maximum pressure” campaign primarily, as its advocates have openly admitted, to serve as a poison pill aimed at making it politically more difficult for any future administration to return to the JCPOA. Indeed, the Senate passed a non-binding measure earlier this month prohibiting President Biden from delisting the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization.

Experts have noted that the designation is purely symbolic and that delisting the IRGC would have little or no practical consequences, a point that Sen. Paul echoed during the hearing. 

“I think people should realize that even if we got rid of the foreign terrorist organization label, the IRGC has been … under sanctions at least since 2007 for funding Hezbollah in Lebanon, so there still would be sanctions,” he noted, adding, “But we have to at least think this through. The only way you get anywhere is you have to give something they want and they give something we want.” 

Malley also appeared to contradict reporting this week that President Biden has made a final decision not to remove the IRGC as an FTO, suggesting that the door may still be open to resolving the issue if the Iranians are willing to make concessions in return. 

“We made clear to Iran that if they wanted any concession on something that was unrelated to the JCPOA, like the FTO designation, we needed something reciprocal from them that would address our concerns,” he said. “Iran has made the decision that it’s not prepared to take the reciprocal step.”

Editorial credit: Christopher Halloran /
Reporting | Middle East
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