The European Parliament approved a resolution that urges the countries of the European Union and the EU Council to expand sanctions against Iran and to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and all its subsidiary forces as terror organizations. This could mean the definite end of the road for negotiations toward the revival of the nuclear deal.
The sanctions must include “all persons and entities responsible for human rights violations and their family members, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Ebrahim Raisi, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri and all forms of sponsorship (“bonyads”) linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” according to a statement by the European Parliament released on Thursday.
“Any country in which the IRGC carries out military, economic or informational operations must cut and prohibit ties with this entity,” according to the statement.
The European Parliament’s move comes as a result of the Iranian government’s harsh crackdown on antigovernment protests that began in mid-September after the death of 22-year-old Iranian Kurd Mahsa Amini while in the custody of the government’s morality police for wearing a hijab incorrectly. The Iranian military’s support for Russia in its invasion of Ukraine is another factor that led to the move.
Iran’s semi-official Tasnim News Agency reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian warned EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell during a phone call of negative consequences as a result of the resolution and said that the European Parliament was “shooting itself in the foot” by calling on its members to list the IRCG as a terror organization.
Intelligence expert Hugo Corden-Lloyd, who specializes in Iran, told The Media Line that if the EU does decide to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization, “it will be the final nail in the coffin for any nuclear agreement.”
Once the IRCG is designated as a terror organization, he added, “it is difficult to see how there could be any reconciliation,” between Iran and the EU countries to reach a deal and revive the nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers, officially known as the Joint Comprehension Plan of Action (JCPOA).
There is no way to resume a nuclear deal if an important actor involved such as the Pasdaran, is listed as a terrorist organization
Dr. Farian Sabahi, a senior researcher in Contemporary History at Italy’s Insubria University, says that by including the Pasdaran, the informal name of the IRGC, on the list of terror organizations, the EU has declared the total failure of the JCPOA.
“There is no way to resume a nuclear deal if an important actor involved such as the Pasdaran, is listed as a terrorist organization,” she told The Media Line, adding that 80% of the Iranian economy is in the hands of the state. Of this 80%, at least half is in the hands of the Pasdaran.
Iran also currently has escalating tensions with the UK, especially after it announced earlier this week the execution of dual British-Iranian citizen Alireza Akbari, who had been found guilty of spying for the British Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as the MI6. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that the execution was “a callous and cowardly act, carried out by a barbaric regime with no respect for the human rights of their own people.”
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said in a statement that the action will not remain unchallenged.
Corden-Lloyd says that is likely that the UK will retaliate covertly, but publicly the repercussions will be increased legal pressure in the form of sanctions and more hostile political rhetoric.
He believes that executing Akbari was a calculated risk on Iran’s part. “I think Iran has made a strategic decision that the rewards will be greater than the risks,” he said. “It demonstrates the lack of faith that the Iranian government has in the current negotiations to revive the JCPOA. With the exception of sanctions or covert action, Britain has few tools with which to appropriately respond,” he added.
The IRGC already largely operates under a significant level of sanctions and so is well used to illicit operations and sanctions evasion
Iran has been under sanctions of varying severity for approximately 40 years, Corden-Lloyd explained. For most of this period, the Islamic Republic has been the most heavily sanctioned country in the world, more so than even North Korea or Venezuela.
Therefore, he added, Iran has “developed what is known as a ‘resistance economy’ and is highly self-reliant. This is helped by a well-educated population.”
Corden-Lloyd says that, in some ways, the listing of the IRGC as a terror group will be just a symbolic gesture. “The IRGC already largely operates under a significant level of sanctions and so is well used to illicit operations and sanctions evasion,” he said.
Still, a terror designation will add additional pressure on the IRGC to ensure their operations are covert and create considerable difficulties for any counterparties. “The legal ramifications for engaging with a terror organization are significant, and it will make it harder for the IRGC to create shell companies even in opaque jurisdictions,” he said.