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EU to consider listing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as terrorists

The EU is exploring legal options to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, a major political move that could end any hope of restoring an international agreement aimed at preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

The move, backed by France and Germany – both sides of the international nuclear deal with Iran – was in response to Tehran’s supply of armed drones to Russia for use in the war against Ukraine, as well as a brutal crackdown on domestic protests.

Paris and Berlin announced their support for the measure at a meeting of foreign ministers last week, four officials familiar with the discussions told the Financial Times. The legal service of the EU will prepare an opinion for the 27 capitals of the bloc on the legality of this measure within the next three weeks.

“Yes, some member states support this proposal,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in an interview. “Many would be in favor.

It is highly unusual for governments to designate another state’s military as a terrorist organization, and support for the move highlights the hardening of Western capitals’ stance on the Islamic Republic.

The UK is already conducting its own review of whether the title should be given to the Guards, the most powerful wing of Iran’s national security apparatus. The Trump administration designated the guards as a terrorist organization in 2019.

EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Josep Borrell says “many” member states support the proposal © Valeria Mongelli/Bloomberg

The positions of Germany and France are important as the two countries – along with the UK, Russia and China – signed the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

According to a French official, France is interested in the potential designation of some regional units of the guard as terrorist organizations, and not the entire organization. The Foreign Office did not respond to a request for comment.

The German Foreign Ministry said that “there are not only political, but also high legal obstacles” to designating the country as a terrorist.

Borrell, backed by Paris, Berlin and London, is the lead negotiator in indirect talks between the US and Iran in an attempt to salvage what’s left of the dying deal known as the JCPOA.

He imposed severe restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of many Western sanctions. But it collapsed after then-US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018 and imposed a series of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Iran has responded aggressively by expanding its nuclear program and is currently enriching uranium to near weapons-grade levels. Western governments have sought to separate the nuclear talks from other Iran-related issues, as they believe the JCPOA is the best chance of preventing Tehran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

But that has changed as the West has become more outraged by Iran’s decision to sell arms to Russia and its crackdown on protesters.

Borrell said the two issues “definitely had a political impact” on EU policy towards Iran.

No nuclear talks have taken place since September, when Iran was accused of rejecting a draft agreement in order to salvage a deal negotiated by other signatories.

That same month, protests erupted in Iran after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in police custody after being arrested for improperly wearing the mandatory hijab.

Borrell warned that prospects for JCPOA talks, already remote, would collapse if the EU labeled the guards as terrorists.

“The JCPOA is not dead, but it has completely stalled,” Borrell said. “You can imagine that it will be increasingly blocked if [the terrorist designation] done by other states. . . that would certainly complicate things.”

“If the Iranian regime is so bad…. . We must try to ensure that such a regime does not have a nuclear bomb, ”added Borrell. “And I don’t know of any other way to do this than to make the JCPOA work.”

The 120,000-strong organization of the Revolutionary Guards was created after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in parallel with the conventional army to protect the republic from internal and external threats. Western nations often accuse the Guards of fueling tensions in the Middle East, where they arm and support many militant groups.

Iran’s killing of dissidents on European soil decades ago or luring them to neighboring countries and sending them to Iran for punishment in recent years are among the actions that could be used as legal arguments against the guards, according to Western diplomats in Tehran.

Diplomats have said the EU and UK are likely to take collective action to make any Iranian retaliation, such as expelling ambassadors from Tehran, more costly to the Islamic regime.

The Trump administration has labeled the guards as terrorists as part of his “maximum pressure” campaign against the Republic, which has sparked tensions in the region. The US has accused Iran of attacking tankers in the Persian Gulf, as well as missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, temporarily cutting half of the kingdom’s output.

Earlier this month, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling on member states to enforce terrorist status. Iranian politicians said the country’s parliament would respond by appointing the armies of European states, warning that such a move would legitimize the possible actions of the guards against them in the future.

Under EU rules, the bloc cannot declare an organization terrorist without first being ordered by a court in a member state. Judicial decisions in non-EU countries, including the UK, are possible legal grounds, officials said, but they will be more complex.

“Yes, we can do more [against the guards]Borrell said. “But, as I told my colleagues on the board: it’s in your hands. I need a national solution.”

Additional reporting by Laura Pitel and Guy Chazan in Berlin, Sam Fleming in Brussels, Ben Hall in London and Leila Abboud in Paris

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