U.S. President Joe Biden has decided to keep Iran's Revolutionary Guards on the American list of terrorist organizations, Politico reported Tuesday, citing a senior Western official.
The decision to keep the group on the United States' terror blacklist is expected to make it difficult to advance nuclear talks with Iran, which have stalled in recent months.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett released a statement saying Biden had informed him of the decision in their latest conversation last month. Another official confirmed the April 24 telephone call, according to the report.
Biden, according to that source, said the decision was final and that the window of opportunity for concessions with Iran had passed. Sources in Washington had told their associates in Jerusalem that they were waiting for the right time to publicly announce the decision.
Bennett's confirmation of the decision comes weeks after the Senate passed a non-binding resolution – with the notable support of 16 Democrats – prohibiting the Biden administration from revoking the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps' designation as a foreign terrorist organization.
Defense Minister Yair Lapid write in a tweet that Israel is thanking the U.S. president for his decision to keep the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the list of U.S. terrorist organizations, an "important expression of the United States' commitment to security and stability in the Middle East in general and to the strategic alliance between the United States and Israel in particular," Lapid said, adding that continuing to promote and expand the Abraham Accords and the common fight against terrorism and extremism were at the "core of our relationship."
While the motion, introduced by Republican Sen. James Lankford, is purely symbolic, it is an undoubtedly ominous sign for the U.S. administration as it attempts to break a nearly two-month-long stalemate in talks aimed at returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Rob Malley, Biden's special envoy for Iran, is slated to testify on Wednesday in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the state of negotiations and U.S. policy on Iran moving forward.
The U.S. blacklisted the Revolutionary Guards in 2019 as part of former President Donald Trump's "Maximum Pressure" policy on Iran, one year after he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.
During the renewed nuclear deal talks in Vienna, Israel has expressed its strong objection to Iran's request to remove the Guards from the terror list.
The Biden administration's eventual decision to keep the Guards on the list followed an internal debate: Biden supported the Israeli position, while State Department officials, concerned over a collapse of the nuclear talks, argued that they should be removed from the list.
The U.S. was also initially debating whether to leave the entire Revolutionary Guards on the list, or to only leave its Quds Force branch. Israel has warned that the latter option would enable Iran to execute terror attacks in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere.
While the nuclear talks have long been stalled, the U.S. has backtracked on its decision to set a deadline for them. Still, Israel assesses that the U.S. and other world powers that are party to the original nuclear deal will have to set a deadline eventually due to Iran's advancement on its nuclear program in parallel to the Vienna talks. Israel has warned several times that Iran has taken advantage of the talks in order to enrich uranium at unprecedented levels.
The decision to keep the Guards on the list is intended to allow Iran to decide whether it wants to sign a new agreement – which will significantly increase its income from selling oil against the backdrop of the energy crisis due to the Russia-Ukraine war – or whether it will insist on its demand to remove them from the list.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month that “the only way I could see [the designation] being lifted is if Iran takes steps necessary to justify the lifting of that designation. So it knows what it would have to do in order to see that happen,” adding that “it would require Iran to take certain actions and to sustain them.”
He also noted that the designation does not practically do much for the U.S. since there are a myriad of other sanctions on the IRGC.
Israel Defense Minister Benny Gantz, meanwhile, was informed of the decision last week in a meeting with his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin. Austin told Gantz that in the face of the impending decision, he was advancing a process to strengthen the regional coalition against Iran in an attempt to step up joint demonstrations of power intended to deter the country.