The Iran Nuclear Negotiations: What's at Stake
After one year, negotiations over the Iranian regime’s nuclear program appear to be at a standstill. One of the major sticking points is Tehran’s insistence that the United States remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO).
Since the start of 2022, senior Iranian regime officials have repeatedly upped the ante in the negotiations in Vienna over Tehran’s nuclear weapons program.
While the talks continued in Vienna, the regime increased its uranium enrichment level to 63%, illegally used advanced centrifuges, and limited access to inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in addition to testing advanced missiles and firing rockets into Iraqi territory.
Members of Congress are opposed on bipartisan grounds to the U.S. government’s potential compliance with Tehran’s demands to lift the IRGC designation as an FTO, as they recognize that the IRGC conducts terror operations around the globe.
Over the years, the Iranian Resistance, with detailed statements, reports, and press conferences, has repeatedly warned about the terrorist threats, plots, and operations of the IRGC and its notorious extraterritorial arm, the Quds Force.
In addition, since last year, the U.S. Representative Office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI-US) has further shed light on the terrorist nature and heightened activities of the Iranian regime, particularly those conducted through the IRGC and the Quds Force.
The IRGC has supplied its proxies in the region with deadly drones, along with necessary training and supplies. Most recently, NCRI-US released a report on the formation of naval proxy terror units by the IRGC, consisting of Yemeni, Lebanese, Iraqi, Syrian, and other nationals who have engaged in attacks on ships and commercial vessels to wage terror in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and elsewhere.
Tehran clearly wants to project power and hide its incurable weaknesses inside Iran. In reality, compared to 2015 when the nuclear talks concluded, the Iranian regime is in a much weaker position inside Iran and in the region. There have been eight major uprisings in Iran since 2017, as the Iranian people have been calling for change. Regionally, the Iranian regime is isolated among the Muslim and Shiite populations in the region, and can only rely on its terror proxies.
The Iranian regime has never been as weak in its 43-year rule as today. The economy is bankrupt. Inflation is officially pegged at 41 percent and 70 percent of Iranians live below the poverty line. The institutionalized corruption that spans from the Supreme Leader’s office to the IRGC has engulfed the entire regime, leaving the Iranian economy to be run by mafia-like gangs. There are now no prospects of economic improvements under the current regime.
Most importantly, within Iranian society, the spirit of popular resistance against the regime has never been more powerful. The Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, decided to install Ebrahim Raisi, a mass murderer, as president to consolidate power and prevent more uprisings. For Khamenei, the presidency of Raisi and providing absolute power to the IRGC with more funding, are the two sides of the same coin.
Raisi is hated by the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people for his direct role in the execution of political prisoners, especially during the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, a majority of whom belonged to the main Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK). Raisi has relied heavily on the IRGC for his cabinet, his foreign policy teams, and to empower terror proxies abroad.
However, Raisi has failed. In 2021, Iran was the scene of major anti-regime uprisings every four months, including those waged by farmers, workers, teachers, nurses, defrauded investors, steelworkers, and fuel porters. This was coupled with the expanding activities of the Resistance Units, a nationwide network of mostly young activists affiliated with the MEK.
In a daring act of defiance, the Resistance Units disrupted no less than 25 state-run TV and Radio networks on January 27, 2022. Chants of “Death to Khamenei, Viva Rajavi,” and messages of the Iranian Resistance’s Leadership were broadcast on these channels. The channels were not fully functional for more than a month. Since then, similar campaigns have been undertaken in at least a dozen cities across the country. These activities have demonstrably rattled the regime.
The regime’s inability and unwillingness to resolve the underlying economic, political, and social problems plaguing Iranian society, in addition to its failure to extinguish the flames of resistance, the expansion of popular protests, and the activities of the Resistance Units nationwide, lead to only one conclusion: Iranian society is like a powder keg, ready to explode at any moment with the slightest spark.
One thing has become very clear. Regardless of the outcome of the Vienna talks, the mullahs will never stop their bomb-making program, nor will they abandon their terrorism, or the production and launching of ballistic missiles and drones against other countries in the region. Indeed, on March 10, Khamenei insisted that he will not abandon the nuclear program even after the sanctions are lifted.
The mullahs want a nuclear deal only to secure financing to pay for repression and warmongering, while they complete their nuclear bomb-making program. The regime’s entire nuclear weapons program must be dismantled, period. There is no halfway solution for the Iranian regime’s threats.
There was sufficient evidence in 2019 to designate the IRGC as an FTO, however, the actions of this terror machine over the past three years have represented additional proof to maintain the FTO designation and increase accountability.
Instead of considering delisting the terror machines of the Iranian regime, including the IRGC and the Quds Force, the U.S. and western nations should look for ways to hold the regime responsible for its decades of ongoing repression, genocide, and terrorism. The regime’s leaders must face justice for four decades of crimes against humanity and genocide.
The international community should recognize the Iranian people’s struggle to overthrow the clerical regime and establish a democratic, secular, non-nuclear republic in Iran. Nothing can stand in the way of victory by the Iranian people, who have demonstrated incredible courage, resilience, and resolve in the face of intolerable adversities.
Any sanctions relief would benefit the IRGC and the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. Every dollar in the hands of the IRGC would prolong the rule of the ayatollahs and enables the regime to force more repression at home and terrorism and mayhem abroad.
Saeed Abed: Member of the NCRI Foreign Affairs Committee; Human Rights Activist, Expert on Iran, and the Middle East
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