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May 25, 2022 1:47 pm

Iranian Smuggling Network Hit With US Sanctions as Prospects Fade for Revived Nuclear Deal

avatar by Ben Cohen

Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) gather around the coffins fellow IRGC members who were killed by a suicide car bomb, during their funerals in Isfahan, Iran, Feb. 16, 2019. Photo: Morteza Salehi/ Tasnim News Agency/via Reuters.

The US on Wednesday designated an Iranian-run oil smuggling and money laundering network as a senior Biden Administration official poured cold water on the prospects for a renewed deal over the Tehran regime’s nuclear program.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the designation of “an international oil smuggling and money laundering network, led by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF) official Behnam Shahriyari and former IRGC-QF official Rostam Ghasemi, both of whom are designated persons.”

Blinken remarked that the network “is backed by senior levels of the Russian Federation government and state-run economic enterprises. It has facilitated the sale of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oil for the IRGC-QF and Hezbollah, and it spans several jurisdictions, including Iran and Russia. The IRGC-QF’s support for proxy militant groups continues to perpetuate conflict and suffering throughout the region.”

Addressing the international effort to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the technical name for the nuclear deal agreed between Iran, the US and five other world powers — Blinken stressed that while “the United States continues to seek a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA, we will strictly enforce sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade.”

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Blinken added that the US was working “vigorously to counter sanctions evasion and continue to strictly enforce sanctions on Iran’s illicit oil trade,” and warned that anyone “purchasing oil from Iran faces the prospect of US sanctions.”

The US announcement came at the same time as Rob Malley, the State Department’s Special Envoy for Iran, cast doubt on the chances for a revived nuclear agreement during testimony before the US Congress.

“We do not have a deal with Iran and prospects for reaching one are, at best, tenuous,” Malley said. He added that if the accord could not be resurrected, the United States was “ready to continue to enforce and further tighten our sanctions … and to respond strongly to any Iranian escalation, working in concert with Israel and our regional partners.”

Separately, Politico reported that President Joe Biden had decided at the end of April not to remove the IRGC from the US terrorism blacklist, a sticking point raised by Iranian negotiators at the nuclear talks in Vienna. The report quoted an anonymous source who claimed that Biden conveyed his decision during an April 24 phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Biden reportedly emphasized that his decision was absolutely final and that the window for Iranian concessions had closed.

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