Biden says he would keep Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations list even if that killed off the 2015 Iran nuclear deal
US President Joe Biden said he would use force as a last resort to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon as he began a trip to the Middle East.
Speaking in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 TV that was recorded before he left Washington on Tuesday but aired on Wednesday, Biden said he would keep Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list even if that killed off the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
Asked if his past statements that he would prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon meant he would use force against Iran, Biden replied: “If that was the last resort, yes.”
Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons, saying that its nuclear program is for solely peaceful purposes.
Tehran struck a deal with six major powers in 2015 under which it limited its nuclear program to make it harder to obtain a weapon in return for relief from economic sanctions.
US President Donald Trump reneged on the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to start violating the agreement’s nuclear limits about a year later.
Efforts to resurrect the deal so far failed, with a senior U.S. official telling Reuters that chances of its revival were lower after indirect talks between the United States and Iran in Doha two weeks ago.
Negotiators appeared close to a new deal in March, but talks broke down largely because of U.S. refusal of Tehran’s demand that Washington remove the IRGC from the terrorism list, arguing this was outside the scope of reviving the pact.
Asked if he was committed to keeping the IRGC on the FTO list even if that killed the deal, Biden replied: “Yes.”
The IRGC, a powerful political faction in Iran, controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence forces that Washington accuses of a global terrorist campaign.
Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid will sign a joint pledge to deny Iran nuclear weapons on Thursday, closing ranks after long-running disputes between the allies over global diplomacy with Tehran.
The United States and Israel have separately made such veiled threats against Iran – which denies seeking nuclear weaponry – for years. Formally articulating the rhetoric could enhance the sense of deterrence and mutual commitment to action.
“I think what you’ll see in the joint declaration is a pledge and a commitment never to allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon and that we’re prepared to use all elements of our national power to ensure that outcome,” one US official said.
Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday in a regional tour which will also see him attend a GCC summit in Saudi Arabia.
Israel rolls out red carpet
In the skies above Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Air Force One lowered its giant wheels. On the ground below, red carpet already unrolled, the great and the good awaited the arrival of a US president six years older than the state of Israel itself.
Joe Biden is no stranger to Israel. This is his 10th visit, and he has met every one of the country’s prime ministers since he first came as a young senator in 1973 and sat down with Golda Meir.
This time it was the turn of President Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid, Israel’s interim prime minister as it awaits yet another parliamentary election at the end of the year, to welcome Biden. The men exchanged fist bumps, in line with White House guidance that the US president would be avoiding personal contact because of COVID-19 precautions.
However, Biden made an exception for Benjamin Netanyahu, sharing a hearty handshake with the opposition leader and former prime minister. The president also placed a friendly hand on the shoulders of several Israeli dignitaries.
In a welcoming speech, Lapid told Biden: “Your relationship with Israel has always been personal,” and said the president was “one of the best friends Israel has ever known.”
In a similar vein, Herzog played on Biden’s first name, deeming him “both a visionary and a leader” like the biblical Joseph. Biden was “truly among family” in Israel, Herzog said.
In reply, Biden described the connection between the two countries as “bone-deep.” He said: “We have a full agenda over the next few days, because the relationship between Israel and the US covers every issue that matters to our mutual future. We are united in our shared values and our shared vision.
“I’m proud to say that our relationship with the state of Israel is deeper and stronger in my view than it’s ever been. With this visit, we’re strengthening our connections even further. We’ll continue to advance Israel’s integration into the region.”
The issue of Iran, particularly its nuclear program and regional meddling through proxy militias, tops the agenda for Biden’s visit — not just in Israel but also later when he visits Saudi Arabia.
Herzog referred on Wednesday to the “security challenges emanating directly from Iran and its proxies, threatening Israel and its neighbors and endangering our region.”
Lapid said that he and Biden would “discuss building a new security and economy architecture with the nations of the Middle East,” following US-brokered Abraham Accords in 2020 with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco.