Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) says it will not stop attempts to avenge its top general killed in a United States attack as a condition to end sanctions – a key sticking point to reviving an important nuclear deal.
General Qassem Soleimani, who headed the elite Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the IRGC, was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq’s capital Baghdad in January 2020.
“Enemies have asked us several times to give up avenging the blood of Qasem Soleimani, for the lifting of some sanctions. But this is a fantasy,” navy commander Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri was quoted as saying by the IRGC’s Sepah News website.
Former US President Donald Trump ordered Soleimani killed, saying he was planning an “imminent” attack on American personnel in the Iraqi capital.
Iran responded to his assassination by firing missiles a few days later at Iraqi bases housing US troops, causing injuries. The attacks and retaliatory strikes brought the Middle East region to the brink of war.
‘Make a decision’
Iran has been engaged for a year in negotiations with France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China directly, and the United States indirectly, to revive a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
In 2018, two years before Soleimani’s killing, the US unilaterally withdrew from the accord and reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to step back from its commitments.
Negotiations in the Austrian capital Vienna aim to return Washington to the deal, including through the lifting of crippling sanctions on Iran, and to ensure Tehran’s full compliance with its commitments.
Among the key remaining sticking points is Tehran’s demand to delist the IRGC from a US “terrorism” list.
That sanction, imposed by Trump after he withdrew from the nuclear agreement, is officially separate from the nuclear file.
The US said on Thursday that if Iran wanted sanctions relief beyond the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, it must address “US concerns”.
“We are not negotiating in public, but if Iran wants sanctions lifting that goes beyond the JCPOA, they will need to address concerns of ours beyond the JCPOA,” a US Department of State spokesperson said.
“Conversely, if they do not want to use these talks to resolve other bilateral issues beyond the JCPOA, then we are confident that we can very quickly reach an understanding on the JCPOA and begin reimplementing the deal,” the spokesperson added. “Iran needs to make a decision.”
‘Aggressively use our powerful tools’
The Quds Force is the foreign espionage and paramilitary arm of Iran’s IRGC that controls its allied militia abroad. The Trump administration put the IRGC on the State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in 2019, marking the first time Washington formally labelled another nation’s military a “terrorist” group.
“Under any return to the JCPOA, the United States would retain and aggressively use our powerful tools to address Iran’s destabilising activities and its support for terrorism and terrorist proxies, and especially to counter the IRGC,” the State Department spokesperson said.
Right-wing US politicians and Israel, the arch-rival of Iran, have warned Washington against lifting sanctions on the IRGC.
Iran this week said “technical issues” in the now-paused negotiations to restore the nuclear agreement have been resolved, but “political” issues persist ahead of concluding any deal.
“We have repeatedly stressed [to Washington] that Iran is not willing to abandon its red lines,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Thursday, without giving further details.
On Monday, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said “the perpetrators, officials, accomplices and advisers” in Soleimani’s death “will not go unpunished“, adding “these people must be brought to justice”.