US willing to pay ‘too high a price’ for Iran deal - Bennett

The US is considering removing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization for the nuclear deal.

 Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami smiles during a joint exercise called the 'Great Prophet 17' in the southwest of Iran (photo credit: SAEED SAJJADI/FARS NEWS/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)VIA REUTERS)
Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Hossein Salami smiles during a joint exercise called the 'Great Prophet 17' in the southwest of Iran
(photo credit: SAEED SAJJADI/FARS NEWS/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)VIA REUTERS)

Removing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ designation as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) is too high a price to pay for a nuclear deal with Iran, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

“Unfortunately, there is determination to sign a nuclear agreement with Iran at almost any price, including saying that the world’s largest terrorist organization is not a terrorist organization,” he said. “That is too high a price.”

Bennett expressed concern about Iran’s “audacious” demand that the IRGC be removed from the FTO list as a side deal to the revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The US has sought a public commitment from Iran to de-escalate in the region and not to attack Americans, something Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Friday in a joint statement they “find hard to believe.”

“The IRGC is the largest, most murderous terrorist organization in the word, and unlike ISIS or other organizations, they have a state behind them,” Bennett said. “This is not just an Israeli problem; other countries, US allies in the region, are dealing with this organization day after day, hour after hour.”

The IRGC and its proxies have shot missiles and UAVs (drones) into countries throughout the region, he said.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the cabinet on March 20, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/POOL) Prime Minister Naftali Bennett addresses the cabinet on March 20, 2022 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/POOL)

“Even now, the IRGC is trying to murder Israelis and Americans around the world,” he added.

If the US decides to delist the IRGC, Israel will continue to treat it like a terrorist organization, Bennett said.

“As usual, what determines our future is our actions, not words,” he said.

Gulf states have also appealed to the Biden administration not to remove the IRGC’s terrorist designation, saying Iran’s commitment to reduce regional tensions is worthless, KAN News reported.

Bennett and Lapid said on Friday that they “believe that the United States will not abandon its closest allies in exchange for empty promises from terrorists.”

The US assured Israel in recent weeks that it “can find other ways to keep the IRGC in check,” an Israeli diplomatic source said, but they did not specify how. Israel is also concerned about the move sending a “terrible message.”

Bennett and Lapid issued a joint statement to clarify that there were no political differences between them, the source said.

The removal of the IRGC’s terrorist designation has the potential to boost Iran’s economy, in addition to lifting nuclear-related sanctions as per the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The IRGC has played a huge role in Iran’s economy for decades, with its hands in various industries, including energy, water, transportation, communications and infrastructure.

With the IRGC considered a terrorist group since 2019, the US could initiate legal proceedings against companies that work with its subsidiaries, although it has never done so. Lifting the IRGC’s terrorist designation would enable foreign companies to do business with subsidiaries of the group.

The US and Iran have been indirectly negotiating for the past 11 months to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, which restricted Tehran’s uranium enrichment to 3.67% and cut almost all of its stockpile of enriched uranium in exchange for gradually lifting sanctions.

World powers and Iran in recent weeks have said they are close to completing the deal. The IRGC designation is one of the final matters to be negotiated, along with Russia seeking an exception from Western sanctions related to the Ukraine war to be able to carry out civilian nuclear activities with Iran as stipulated by the JCPOA.

Israel opposed the original deal and is against a return to it. Most of the deal’s limitations on Iran’s nuclear activities expire at the end of 2025, Israel says. In addition, the agreement does not restrict Iran’s malign actions in the region or its ballistic-missile program, while lifting sanctions would lead to a major cash influx for terrorism, proxy warfare and weapons, Israel says.

Bennett recorded a message in honor of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on Sunday, expressing hope for the downfall of the Iranian regime.

“Nowruz literally means new day, and that’s my greatest wish to you, the Iranian people, that you will see a new day, a day of freedom from the cruel Iranian regime,” he said. “I hope this new year will free the Iranian people from the shackles of oppression of the Iranian regime and that your love of life shall prevail over tyranny and terror. I long for the day that we can be friends again as we once were.”