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The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Troubling Silence

The systematic collapse of the U.S. negotiating position presages a final push to reach a final nuclear deal. But while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggests he wants a deal, and pundits in the United States if not in Iran say that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is behind him (the reality is murkier), one group has been notably silent: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There have been warnings signs all along that the IRGC was less than pleased with the nuclear negotiations. Take, for example, the imprisonment of Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian. To simply dismiss his incarceration as part of a hardline backlash is disingenuous, especially when those responsible for his situation also happen to have control over the potential military dimensions of any Iranian nuclear program. If Zarif and crew can’t sway the Iranian bureaucracy on relatively low-hanging fruit like Rezaian, how can they hope to do so on nuclear weapons research? Some wire services last April quoted IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari as backing the deal, but a comparison between their quotes and the broader Persian context suggests cherry-picking.

The IRGC role in the military aspect or military ambitions of Iran’s nuclear program must be taken seriously. After IRGC General Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam perished in a 2011 mishap at an IRGC missile base, the Iranian press reported that his last will and testament requested that his epitaph read “The man who enabled Israel’s destruction.” Much of the concern with regard to Possible Military Dimensions of the Iranian nuclear program centers on work done on various IRGC bases (see the Annex starting on page 11 of this IAEA document). And while Zarif has promised access by some drawn out process, the Iranian officials who control the gates to the military bases are not in the foreign ministry, but in the IRGC or Defense Ministry which have made clear what they think of access to their sites.

I noted last week the disturbing parallels between the Iran and North Korea deals, especially when it came to diplomats’ willingness to dismiss evidence of cheating. The irony is greater because State Department official Wendy Sherman was involved in both processes. The Clinton-era negotiations with Yasser Arafat should also provide lessons: At the Camp David II Summit, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators reached a deal. Arafat flew in and not only refused to accept what his negotiators had agreed to, but he also refused to make any counteroffer. It seems that in their quest to get a signature on paper, the Obama team is replicating the mistake of not identifying whose signature they need to get on the paper.

If the IRGC is really going to abide by this nuclear deal, it’s essential to get Jafari’s explicit agreement. Absent that, start the stopwatch on the unraveling of what Obama and Kerry would like to see as a historic moment.

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