ANALYSIS: Europe Is Reluctant to Designate IRGC As A Terrorist Organization

By Ahmad Rafat

European governments are in the process of deciding whether to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.

On Jan. 18, the European Parliament overwhelmingly supported a proposal urging the European Union (EU) to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

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Although the British Parliament and the State General of the Netherlands – meaning the bicameral parliament — also voted decisively in favor of the measure, the British and Dutch governments said they were not enacting the plan.

The EU Council of Ministers said it plans to discuss the measure at its next meeting on Feb. 20 in Brussels.

Shortly after the historic vote by the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, opposed implementing the measure.

Tobias Billstrom, Swedish Foreign Minister, echoed the same sentiment, arguing that conditions were unsuitable for putting the measure in place.

Sweden took on the six-month rotating presidency of the EU in January.

Although some European leaders, such as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – who represents the common interests of the 27 member states — support the proposal to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization, they have not made an effort to put this into action.

Those who oppose putting the IRGC on the list of terrorist organizations offer various reasons for their reluctance.

A senior EU foreign policy and security official and other European diplomats have told Kayhan Life that for the EU to put an organization on its list of terrorist groups, that organization — and not a person or persons belonging to it – has to be convicted of committing a terrorist act by a court in an EU member country, or the UN Security Council must include it on its list of terrorist organizations.

However, the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) said in 2017 that evidence and rulings from non-European courts are admissible when deciding whether to add an organization to Europe’s list of terrorist entities.

Another reason cited by the opponents of the move to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization is that the force is an official organ of the Iranian state.

Under the Islamic Republic Constitution, the IRGC, like the regular army, is part of the country’s armed forces, and is therefore not comparable to ISIS or Al-Qaeda.

A French diplomat told Kayhan Life that if Europeans were to designate the IRGC, which is a military arm of a country, as a terrorist organization, then they must declare the entire country a terrorist state, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the head of a terrorist group.

A Spanish diplomat agreed, telling Kayhan Life that the decision could have dire consequences, and lead to a military confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

Europe is currently entangled in the war in Ukraine and does not wish to get embroiled in a crisis in another region.

Other European groups share the same concern. They note that the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain are the only three countries that have designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization.

Countries outside Europe have avoided making the decision altogether.

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Barring a miracle in the lead-up to the EU foreign ministers’ meeting, the decision to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization will most likely be left for the next sessions.

However, the EU is likely to punish the Islamic Republic by sanctioning several more individuals and institutions.

The EU has already sanctioned 155 real-life individuals and entities in the Islamic Republic. It has also ratified another 3,854 instances of sanctions against Iran.

After Russia, Iran has the largest number of sanctions imposed on it by the EU.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billstrom, who opposes designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization, said that the EU condemned the Islamic Republic’s human rights violations, but could not use that to designate its military wing as a terrorist organization.

“The Guard Corps cannot be put on the list of terrorist organizations just for violating human rights in Iran. Rather, they should have ties with terrorism,” DW News reported on Jan. 27, quoting Billstrom.

When asked about designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization, after his address to the Foreign Affairs Council on Jan. 23, EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said: “There are many interesting opinions about that. But it is something that cannot be decided without a court.”

“You cannot say: ‘I consider you a terrorist because I dislike you.’ It has to be [done] when a court of one member state issues a legal statement, a concrete condemnation,” Mr. Borrell said. “We work at the European level, but it must first be a court decision.”

Designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization will have heavy political and economic consequences for Europe. It will be impossible to maintain economic ties and trade with a country whose military wing is officially recognized as a terrorist organization.

Including the IRGC on the list of terrorist groups will end the EU’s economic and trade ties with the Islamic Republic.

There is no shortage of countries willing to act as third parties to maintain these economic relations.

Although sanctions have prevented the Islamic Republic from importing products such as weapons and ammunition from Europe, it has continued this trade illegally.

For instance, Iran has reportedly bought bird shots (pellets) manufactured by a French-Italian company which the security forces and riot police have used against street protesters in the past five months. Several protesters were hit by these pellets, losing their eyesight.

Besides the significant economic implications, the EU will need to invest in boosting its security capabilities to combat groups under the control of the Islamic Republic, which will escalate their terrorist operations if the IRGC is designated as a terrorist organization. Some estimate that it would cost around 1 billion euros to beef up the security system.

Another reason for the EU’s reluctance to designate the IRGC as a terrorist group is that it still holds out hope of reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the Iran nuclear deal.

Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – the UN nuclear watchdog — recently said that he could not say if the talks on reviving the nuclear deal were “dead or alive.”

Mr. Grossi’s comments imply that while the negotiations are dead, no one is prepared to accept the responsibility for their demise.

An editorial in the Tehran-based Javan newspaper, affiliated with the IRGC, expressed a similar sentiment.

“Withdrawing from the JCPOA has not been Iran’s tactic,” the writer said. “We should follow the West’s approach, i.e. remain in the JCPOA but not comply with it.”

The talks on reviving the Iran nuclear deal, which started three years ago, stopped before the “Woman, Life, Freedom” revolution swept Iran. It is highly unlikely that the parties involved will return to the negotiating table while the nationwide protests continue in Iran.

The popular uprising in Iran is not the only obstacle to reviving the nuclear talks.

Russia, one of the principal countries involved in the nuclear negotiations, has played a defining role in the development of the talks. Its military invasion of Ukraine a year ago has posed a serious obstacle to rebooting the talks.

Iran’s cooperation with Russia in its war against Ukraine has added new and troubling dimensions to the deadlock.

Although any hope of reviving the JCPOA is fast fading, Rafael Grossi and Josep Borrell insist on pursuing the talks.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 6, Mr. Borrell, who coordinated the nuclear talks with Iran, criticized the detractors of the nuclear negotiations, saying, “Perhaps they do not assess the dangers of a nuclear Iran enough.”

“As far as I know, there is not an alternative to this deal to avoid Iran becoming nuclear,” Borrell added. “Designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization would be the death of the JCPOA.”

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