For months, the smart money has been betting that a nuclear deal between President Joe Biden and Iran’s rulers was a sure thing.
Biden had promised that any new agreement that would be “longer and stronger” than the deal former President Barack Obama concluded in 2015 and from which former President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018. But Iran’s rulers refused to go along. They demanded concession after concession, knowing that Biden’s envoys would claim they’d prevented the Islamic Republic from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability—even if that claim was in stark contrast with reality.
If Iran’s rulers kept their end of the bargain—unlikely if history is any guide—the doors of the nuclear weapons club would still open to them soon enough. The deal would be an echo of the Agreed Framework of 1994 which then-President Bill Clinton proudly proclaimed would prevent North Korea from becoming nuclear-armed.
Now for the good news: Tehran’s most recent demand has brought the negotiations to a screeching halt.
The clerical regime is insisting the United States lift its designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Biden has not capitulated.
Perhaps that’s because he knows that more than 600 Americans have been killed by weapons that, according to a U.S. Army study, were developed under IRGC auspices specifically to kill Americans, smuggled into Iraq, and given to Shi’ite militias whom the IRGC trained in their use.
He certainly knows that the IRGC is responsible for attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Syria and Lebanon and that it supports Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Houthis.
Most of those pushing for a weaker and shorter version of Obama’s deal don’t dispute that the IRGC is a terrorist organization, but argue that the designation is merely “symbolic” and therefore unimportant. This should surprise the State Department, which maintains an FTO list of over 70 terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The Obama administration added 25 organizations to the list.
Last week, a delegation of Gold Star families, relatives of American military personnel killed or wounded by Iranian weapons, came to Washington to urge Biden not to remove the FTO designation.
The visit follows up on a letter sent recently to Biden by over 900 wounded veterans and Gold Star family members opposing the lifting of the IRGC’s terrorist designation.
A letter sent earlier this year by more than a thousand vets and family members urged Biden not to release billions of dollars in frozen Iranian funds. That money should be used to compensate parents and spouses of those killed or wounded by the Islamic Republic and its agents. If transferred to Tehran’s rulers, the money will instead underwrite more terrorism and aggression.
As this controversy plays out, the IRGC is not laying low. On Saturday, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying: “In recent months, attempts made by the Iranian regime to assassinate a U.S. General in Germany, a journalist in France and an Israeli diplomat in Turkey were foiled. … These terror attacks were ordered, approved and funded by the senior leadership of the Iranian regime and were intended to be executed by the IRGC.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has acknowledged that Tehran poses “an ongoing threat against American officials present and past.”
During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier in the week, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz asked Blinken: “Is it true that American negotiators made specific requests for a commitment that the IRGC will stop trying to murder former American officials and is it true that they said no?”
He added: “If they are actively refusing, saying, ‘No, we’re going to keep trying to murder your former secretary of state,’ the idea that our negotiators are sitting in Vienna saying, ‘Okay, that’s great, so how many more billions can we give you?’—that doesn’t make any sense.”
Unmentioned was the fact that Iran’s theocrats, in addition to targeting former and current U.S. government officials, have threatened several Iran experts at think tanks, including the one where I hang my hat.
Those with longer memories will recall that, in 2011, the FBI foiled a plot to bomb Cafe Milano, a posh Georgetown restaurant, while Adel al-Jubeir, then the Saudi ambassador to the United States, was taking his supper. Diners at tables near him would have been collateral damage.
That plot, along with many others, is believed to have been orchestrated by Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Quds Force, whose specialty was running terrorist and paramilitary operations around the world. President Obama vowed serious consequences but never delivered them.
In January 2020, however, Soleimani was the target of an airstrike in Baghdad ordered by Trump, who explained in a tweet that the general had “killed or badly wounded thousands of Americans over an extended period of time and was plotting to kill many more.” Iran’s rulers pledged “severe revenge.” Subsequent attacks on Americans in Iraq and elsewhere appear not to have satisfied that desire.
Several Democrats have now joined Republicans in opposing the lifting of the FTO designation. New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Fox News on Sunday: “I want the administration to understand that no deal is better than a bad deal.”
What happens next? The logic by which Iran’s rulers make their decisions is difficult to fathom.
As for Biden, he could go wobbly. But it’s also possible he’ll decide to consider other means to prevent the Islamic Republic from becoming a nuclear-armed terrorist sponsor. If so, Israel and its Arab allies (now there’s a phrase I never expected to write) will be pleased to offer suggestions.
Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), and a columnist for “The Washington Times.”