Antony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for secretary of state, opposed designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization out of fears it would lead to blowback -- a potential sign of the softer stance a Biden administration is expected to take toward Iran.
Biden announced Monday that Blinken, a former deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, would be his pick for the nation’s top diplomat. It was the Obama administration that entered the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) -- known as the Iran nuclear deal -- which normalized relations with the Iranian regime.
During that administration, Blinken served as deputy secretary of state and as a principal deputy national security adviser to former President Obama, having also served as Biden’s national security adviser.
The Trump administration has taken a harder line on Tehran, withdrawing from the JCPoA, reimposing sanctions on Iran’s economy and energy sectors, and taking steps against the IRGC -- including killing General Qassem Soleimani and designating it a terror group in 2019.
In 2017, when the Trump administration was still mulling the idea, Blinken said he opposed designating the IRGC a terror group, noting that the Bush administration had also shied away from making such a designation. The Trump administration would make the designation in 2019.
“If there's a formal designation as a terrorist organization, I think there is going to be blowback,” he said on CNN in October 2017. “That's exactly why the Bush administration and the Obama administration, while using other sanctions against individual members, leaders or the IRGC, resisted designating the organization.”
He was then asked how it differs from the State Department already describing the organization as the leading sponsor of terrorism.
“None of us should have any love for the IRGC and the Quds force,” he responded. “They do terrible things around the world on a daily basis. But in Iran, they are considered the armed forces of the regime. And they have the ability, if they want to use it, to make trouble.”
He suggested instead using existing sanctions “without sticking it in their eye publicly in a way that might actually blow up reaction and that endangers our troops.”
Biden has pledged to reenter the Iran nuclear deal. The Guardian on Monday reported that the U.K., France and Germany have met to discuss a joint approach with the incoming administration on reviving the troubled deal.
Blinken, if confirmed by the Senate, will be at the forefront of any such negotiations. He will also play a key role in reentering other organizations and deals that the Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from -- including the Paris climate agreement.