Talks in Vienna aimed at revising the tattered Iran nuclear deal have rumbled on for more than a year. President Joe Biden is keen to revive the deal, which was unilaterally abandoned by President Trump in 2018, but talks have stalled due to demands by the Iranian regime that their Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) should be removed from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) blacklist. Democrats are hesitant about the move, realizing they would be accused of being soft on terrorism. The Democrats have had a difficult and confusing history concerning Iran. When President Jimmy Carter was in office shortly after the revolution that ousted the Shah of Iran in 1979, supporters of the fundamentalist extremist Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and seized 52 US hostages. The hostages were held for 444 days and released only after Ronald Reagan won the presidency in January 1981. 

When Bill Clinton entered the White House in 1993, he was immediately assailed by an army of agents, lobbyists and apologists for the fascist theocratic regime in Iran, who pled with him to list the main Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran/Mojahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK) as a terrorist organization. Desperate to appease the mullahs, Clinton obliged by blacklisting the PMOI/MEK. The US was quickly followed by the EU and UK. It took years of costly legal battles in America, Europe and Britain to have the unjust listings rescinded, with the UK courts even describing the terrorist labelling of the PMOI/MEK as “perverse”.

It was therefore of no surprise when Barack Obama won power for the Democrats in 2008, he found a way to appease the Iranian mullahs by brokering the deeply flawed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal. In the deal signed in 2015, he even agreed to the theocratic regime’s demands that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors should not be allowed to access IRGC military sites, where, of course, all the nuclear weapons were being constructed. Joe Biden seems determined to continue this reckless cycle by acquiescing to the mullahs’ demand to lift sanctions imposed by Trump. Such a move would kick-start Iran’s collapsing economy and the regime’s ability to finance the IRGC’s proxy-wars and international terrorism. De-listing the IRGC would be a catastrophic mistake.

The IRGC and their ruthless Quds Force responsible for extra-territorial operations, was formed by Ayatollah Khomeini shortly after he hi-jacked the 1979 revolution and seized power. He tasked the IRGC and Quds Force with defending the regime’s twisted fundamentalist dogmas. They became the guardians of the revolution, responsible for exporting Islamic fundamentalism worldwide. Answerable only to the supreme leader, the IRGC controls around 70% of the Iranian economy. They pay no tax. Venal corruption has enriched their commanders, who drive expensive cars and live in lavish villas, while ordinary Iranians starve. They groom, train and finance Iran’s proxies in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories causing bloodshed and conflict wherever they operate. Their revered commander, until he was killed by a drone-strike at Baghdad Airport ordered by President Trump in January 2020, was the infamous General Qassem Soleimani, a listed terrorist responsible for thousands of innocent deaths, including hundreds of Americans. Indeed, it was Trump who listed the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2019, in an unprecedented step designating an integral part of another government as an FTO.

The Israeli government is deeply concerned that Biden may agree to de-listing the IRGC. They know that Iran, through the IRGC, already funds Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), all listed terrorist groups, to the tune of $800 million a year. Providing them with more resources would enable them to source more advanced armaments such as weaponised drones, for use in attacking Israel, a concept that alarms the Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Increased Iranian-backed IRGC funding for Bashar al-Assad’s brutal civil war, now into its eleventh year and for the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the callous Shi’ia militias in Iraq, would simply stoke further sectarian unrest and conflict across the Middle East, possibly escalating into a full-scale confrontation with Israel or Saudi Arabia or both.

Removing the IRGC and Quds Force from the FTO blacklist would also encourage their global terrorist threats. It is already evident that mercenaries from the IRGC have been deployed in Ukraine, to fight alongside the Russian invaders. That knowledge alone should surely be enough to stop Biden from delisting the IRGC. But Biden should also remember that it was the IRGC who planned, financed and directed the horrific attacks on the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and the US embassy annex in 1984, the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 US service personnel in 1996 and hundreds of other well-documented and lethal incidents. More recently IRGC attacks have been directed at commercial shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s busiest trade routes. Then in January 2020, in apparent retaliation for the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, the IRGC shot down Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752, killing all 176 passengers and crew.

Now more than 500 US scientists, scholars and business executives have written to Joe Biden urging him not to de-list the IRGC. In a letter to the president this week, they claimed that removing the IRGC from the terrorist blacklist would go “against the will and interest of the Iranian people” and would be “a direct threat to the advancement of democracy.” The letter stated: “The IRGC is the tool of terrorism abroad and repression of people on the streets of Iran. This instrument of terror safeguards the religious dictatorship in Iran, and continues to impede all progress towards human rights.” It can only be hoped that President Biden will heed their call.