US envoy rules out lifting sanctions on Iran's Revolutionary Guard

Robert Malley addresses key sticking point in efforts to revive nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran

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The US will maintain sanctions on Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard paramilitary force even if there is a deal to limit the country's nuclear programme, US special envoy Robert Malley said on Sunday.

Iran has insisted that taking the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) off a US terrorist list be part of a revived nuclear accord, which diplomats say is close.

But Mr Malley said the force's designation as foreign terrorist organisation (FTO) would not be lifted.

“The IRGC will remain sanctioned under US law and our perception of the IRGC will remain,” he told the Doha Forum international conference in the Qatari capital.

A senior adviser to Iran's supreme leader told the conference that a nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers was imminent but could only happen if the US showed political will.

A handout video grab by the official website of the Iranian military official website Imamedia shows surface-to-surface Khaibar-buster missiles launched in an undisclosed location in Iran. EPA

“Yes, it's imminent. It depends on the political view of the United States,” Kamal Kharrazi said.

He said it was vital for Washington to remove the FTO designation against the Revolutionary Guard.

“IRGC is a national army and a national army being listed as a terrorist group certainly is not acceptable,” he said.

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal reached under the Obama administration.

The new version of that deal would curb Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions that have damaged the country's economy and caused shortages in essential items such as food and medicine.

The EU's co-ordinator for talks met Iran's chief negotiator on Sunday in Tehran, according to Iranian state media.

European Union diplomat Enrique Mora, who co-ordinates talks between Iran and the US, arrived late on Saturday and met Iran's chief negotiator Ali Bagheri, according to the IRNA agency. Mr Mora said in a tweet before his trip that he was “working on closing the remaining gaps".

“Now we are very close to an agreement and I hope it will be possible,” senior EU diplomat Josep Borrell said on Saturday, adding that he believed a deal could be struck in “a matter of days".

However, Mr Malley dampened expectations saying he “can't be confident it is imminent” because negotiators thought they were close several months ago.

Earlier this week, US military Central Command head Gen Kenneth McKenzie said Iranian proxy attacks have been calibrated at a “low enough level” to avoid disrupting the continuing talks.

“Their intent is to do it at a low-enough level that it will not, in their view at least, disrupt the negotiating process. In my judgment, that’s a dangerous position for them to have,” Gen McKenzie said before the US Senate on Tuesday.

On Friday, Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen carried out attacks on Saudi Arabia causing a fire at the Aramco fuel depot in Jeddah. The attacks were reportedly launched from Yemen's Hodeidah. The Saudi-led coalition responded by carrying out air strikes on Hodeidah to neutralise what it called the “sources of threat” to the kingdom.

Updated: March 27, 2022, 11:31 AM
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