Biden Admin Could Remove Sanctions on 80,000 Iranian Militants

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps / Getty Images
April 19, 2022

The Biden administration's latest proposal in nuclear discussions with Iran would waive sanctions on at least 80,000 members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a paramilitary force that has killed hundreds of Americans and waged terror attacks across the Middle East.

The proposal removes the IRGC's terror designation, making it easier for foreign fighters to enter the United States, according to congressional officials. The IRGC's Quds Force, a smaller contingent that primarily fights overseas, would be added to the U.S. terror list to offset the move. Estimates circulated on Capitol Hill and relayed to the Washington Free Beacon indicate between 80,000 and 180,000 fighters would have sanctions dropped. The Quds Force sanctions would cover just 20,000 Iranian militants.

Iranian officials confirmed the proposal in recent days, prompting outrage from Republican foreign policy leaders, who say the IRGC must remain on the U.S. terror list amid attacks on American outposts in the region. They view the concession as a deal breaker if presented to Congress for approval. Members of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), the party's largest congressional caucus, are preparing legislation to keep sanctions on the IRGC and its affiliates. With the midterm elections quickly approaching, a Republican majority in Congress would have the ability to unilaterally reverse any sanctions relief to Iran granted by the Biden administration as part of a new accord.

"Delisting the IRGC and then putting only Quds Forces on the list would effectively mean the other 80,000 or so fighters on the IRGC would be taken off the terrorism list and can now enter the United States," said one senior Republican briefed on the proposal. Members also have been briefed about how the proposal permits IRGC fighters to enter the United States, according to a copy of that information seen by the Free Beacon.

Some Democrats are speaking out against the move. Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) on Tuesday wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, saying he was "particularly worried" about removing the IRGC from the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list. "We should not reward Iran with sanctions relief," he said, until the nation demonstrates willingness to curb its "nuclear ambitions" and "terrorism financing."

RSC members are drafting amendments to next year's annual defense spending bill that would codify the IRGC's terror designation, preventing it from being lifted by executive action, according to congressional sources. A separate bill, known as the Maximum Pressure Act, would stop the Biden administration from lifting a majority of sanctions on Iran. That bill has 130 Republican sponsors and is likely to reach 200 by summer, ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Rep. Jim Banks (R., Ind.), the RSC's leader and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Free Beacon that Democrats who supported the Biden administration's deal with Iran are souring on the agreement due to the IRGC sanctions issue.

"Apparently, the Biden administration believes that people who murder Americans, chant 'death to America,' and threaten to assassinate former Trump officials on American soil somehow aren't terrorists," Banks said. "It's insane, and vulnerable Democrats are starting to say it out loud. Even if Biden and the Ayatollah are successful, House Republicans will ensure that any sanctions relief is temporary."

In a Farsi-language tweet issued last week, the RSC told the Islamic Republic's leaders that Congress will reverse sanctions relief from the Biden administration if Republicans take control of the House in November.

Rep. Greg Steube (R., Fla.), another RSC member who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Free Beacon that Trump-era sanctions handicapped Iran's ability to conduct terror strikes and fund jihadist proxy groups. A revamped nuclear accord, Steube said, would reverse this progress.

"President Trump's maximum pressure strategy was working. The actions taken by the Trump administration starved the IRGC of resources, eventually leading many of their proxy militias to withdraw from Syria and Iraq and bankrupting the Iranian economy," Steube said.

A State Department official would not comment on proposals being floated in diplomatic talks, but said the Biden administration is "prepared to make difficult decisions" in order to revive the 2015 nuclear accord, known as the JCPOA.

"We are not going to negotiate 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 State Department spokesman told the Free Beacon. "If they do not want to use these JCPOA talks to resolve other bilateral issues, we are confident that we can very quickly reach an understanding and begin reimplementing the deal. Iran needs to make a decision."

Update 3:52 p.m.: This post has been updated to reflect more accurately estimates of the number of fighters who would benefit from sanctions relief.