After an extended pause, the Biden administration and the Iranian government resumed indirect negotiations in Qatar late last month over a joint return to the 2015 nuclear agreement formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The talks had reached an impasse due to the Biden administration’s apparent refusal to yield to Tehran’s demand that Washington lift the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ designation as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). The Guards, or IRGC, are still very much in the business of terrorism, but Tehran recognizes the administration is ready to pay almost any price for a deal. However, bipartisan resistance in Congress to giving the IRGC a pass stayed Biden’s hand.
One is tempted to give the president credit for finally saying no to the excessive demands of the clerical regime in Tehran in his interview with Israel Channel 12, and for committing publicly to keeping the IRGC on the FTO list. However, there have been disagreements within the administration over this course of action, and his team is likely looking for ways to stick to the letter of Biden’s pledge while easing the burden on Iran.
In that regard, there are three principal tactics that Congress should be on the lookout for: lifting sanctions on key entities that fund and facilitate IRGC terrorism, such as the Central Bank of Iran (CBI); issuing what are known as general licenses that carve out yawning gaps in the terrorism sanctions regime; and narrowing the IRGC’s FTO designation or specially designated global terrorist (SDGT) designation so it applies only to a slice of the organization.
A sizable bipartisan majority in the Senate has already signaled its opposition to such potential gambits. Republican Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Ted Cruz of Texas introduced amendments to China-related legislation in May that communicated the upper house’s deep reservations about weakening terror sanctions.