US blacklists two IRGC interrogators in first Iran sanctions under Biden admin

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The US State Department blacklisted on Tuesday two of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) interrogators for human rights violations during the 2019 and 2020 protests in Iran, amid an ongoing standoff between Washington and Tehran over reviving the abandoned 2015 nuclear deal.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced designating IRGC interrogators Ali Hemmatian and Masoud Safdari for “involvement in gross violations of human rights, namely the torture and/or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of political prisoners and persons detained during protests in 2019 and 2020 in Iran.”

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The two Iranian officials and their immediate family members are now barred from entering the United States.

Iran is notorious for its widespread human rights abuses, specifically its violent crackdown during protests against the clerical regime.

Hundreds of Iranians took to the streets in November 2019 to protest against fuel price rises, which then turned into political anti-regime demonstrations. Protests rocked Iran again in January 2020 after the IRGC acknowledged they shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 plane in error shortly after takeoff, mistaking it for a missile.

The UN said Iranian security forces used excessive and lethal force, which caused the deaths of over 300 people, including women and children, during the protests.

Thousands were arrested, and the UN said the regime’s forces “used physical and psychological torture against detained protesters, including for the purposes of extracting forced confessions.”

Some of the detained have been handed long prison sentences, and others have been executed.

Nuclear standoff

This was the first move to impose sanctions on Iran by President Joe Biden's adminsitration.

Other than affirming the new administration’s stance on human rights, the State Department’s decision could be interpreted as Washington sending Tehran a signal that it will now bow to the latter’s pressure amid the impasse over reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Since taking office in January, Biden has taken steps, perceived as extending an olive branch to Iran, to revive talks over the nuclear deal which has unraveled since his predecessor Donald Trump pulled the US out of the agreement in 2018.

Biden reversed Trump’s determination that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored and the State Department eased stringent restrictions on the domestic travel of Iranian diplomats in New York.

Yet, Tehran adamantly demanded that all Trump-era sanctions on Iran be lifted before taking any real action to return to the deal. The regime repeatedly made threats of upping their nuclear activities, effectively “turning up the heat” on Biden, trying to get as many concessions from Washington as possible before taking any real action.

Biden has also faced a lot of pressure at home. Lawmakers urged him not to lift sanctions which they say is necessary “leverage” that Washington would appear “weak” if it were to give it up to “appease” Tehran during nuclear negotiations.

Read: Republicans urge Biden against lifting US sanctions on Iran: Do not give up leverage

Levinson anniversary

The sanctions came on the 14th anniversary of former FBI agent Bob Levinson’s abduction. Levinson disappeared on Iran’s Kish Island in 2007, although it remains unclear what he was doing.

Blinken demanded answers on Tuesday, saying the case “is not closed.”

“We call on the Iranian government to provide credible answers to what happened to Bob Levinson and to immediately and safely release all US citizens who are unjustly held captive in Iran. The abhorrent act of unjust detentions for political gain must cease immediately,” Blinken said.

The top US diplomat said the US would “never forget Bob Levinson.”

FBI raises reward for missing ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson to $5 million infographic
FBI raises reward for missing ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson to $5 million infographic

The Trump administration imposed sanctions on two senior Iranian intelligence officials, believed to be involved in Levinson’s disappearance and “likely death” as Blinken said Tuesday.

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US remains ready to meet Iran on nuclear deal, not 'dogmatic' about how: State Dept.

Rouhani estimates ‘damage’ to Iran by US sanctions since 2018 at $200 billion

US disappointed by Iran's latest move on nuclear deal, remains ready to re-engage: WH

Iran says confident US will lift sanctions despite nuclear deal ‘political wrangling’

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