In the coming days, president Trump is expected to announce that he will decertify the Iran Nuclear Deal, a step that potentially could cause the historic Obama-era accord to unravel. Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to limit its disputed nuclear program in return for the easing of economic sanctions. Realizing the dire threat that such a move presents for its economy – not to mention Iranian oil exports – Iran has escalated the rhetoric, and overnight it warned the United States that U.S. regional military bases “would be at risk” if further sanctions were passed or if the US designated its Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a terrorist group.
On Friday the Financial Times reported that Donald Trump is expected to designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group, as part of a new hardline strategy against the Islamic republic.
Mr Trump is expected to announce new measures against Iran, including the prospect of additional targeted sanctions, the designation of the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organisation and the adoption of a tougher stance on Iranian proxies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, according to a person briefed on the matter.
“It’s an integrated Iran strategy focused on neutralising and rolling back Iran’s malign activities regionally and globally,” the person said.
Iran was not happy: “The Americans should know that the Trump government’s stupid behavior with the nuclear deal will be used by the Islamic Republic as an opportunity to move ahead with its missile, regional and conventional defense program,” Guards’ commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said, quoted by Reuters. He then explicitly threatened US presence in the region, warning that “if America’s new law for sanctions is passed, this country will have to move their regional bases outside the 2,000 km range of Iran’s missiles.”
Jafari also said that additional sanctions would end the chances for future dialogue with the United States, and issued a stark warning to American troops.
“If the news is correct about the stupidity of the American government in considering the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American army to be like Islamic State all around the world particularly in the Middle East,” Jafari said according to a IRGC statement.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards is the nations’ most powerful security force. The Quds Force – the IRGC’s foreign espionage and paramilitary wing – and individuals and entities associated with the IRGC are on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, but the organization as a whole is not, at leaset not yet.
Members of the IRGC march during a military parade in Tehran September 22, 2007.
IRGC commanders have framed their military involvement in Iraq and Syria, where they are fighting to support the government of President Bashar al-Assad, as a fight against Islamic State. For the duration of the campaign against the Islamic State, Iran has seen the Sunni Muslim militants of ISIS as an existential threat to the mostly Shi’ite Islamic Republic. Dozens of members of the Guards, including senior commanders, have been killed in Syria and Iraq.
As a reminder, on June 7, Islamic State claimed an attack on Tehran’s parliament and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, killing 18 people in one of the nation’s highest profile terrorist attacks in recent years. The Guards fired missiles at Islamic State bases in Syria on June 18 in response.
Last Thursday, Trump again accused Tehran of violating the “spirit” of the landmark nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), limiting Iran’s nuclear program for fifteen years in exchange for easing pre-existing sanctions. He also included the Islamic Republic in a list of “challenges we should’ve taken care of a long time ago,” which features North Korea, Afghanistan, and IS.
Trump has until October 15 to recertify the deal. If he chooses not to – which now appears the most likely outcome – then it will go to Congress, which will have 60 days to decide whether to re-impose sanctions on Tehran, effectively putting an end to the agreement. Trump has called the agreement the “worst deal ever negotiated,” and pledged to “dismantle” it.
Iran has repeatedly warned against violating and pulling out of the deal, as it would be harmful primarily to Washington’s own interests and jeopardize the security of the whole region. At a ceremony at Tehran University marking the start of the academic year, Iran president Rouhani said that “in the nuclear negotiations and agreement we reached issues and benefits that are not reversible. No one can turn that back, not Mr. Trump or anyone else.”
Rouhani also said on Saturday that if the United States violated the deal then it would hurt its own reputation in the international community.
“If America carries out any violations today, the whole world will condemn America. They will not condemn Iran,” Rouhani said, according to state media. “Then they will say why did you trust America and sign an agreement with them.”
“Even if 10 other Trumps are created in the world, these are not reversible.”
The EU has also voiced concerns over removing the nuclear agreement, which “serves the interests of all parties,” according to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. She also stressed that the achievement in striking the long-negotiated agreement belongs to the international community, not just the US.
Meanwhile, on Sunday the IRGC navy was carrying out a military exercise on Sunday in the Gulf, an area of tension with the U.S. navy in recent months. More than 110 vessels were involved in the exercise, including some that have rocket and missile capabilities, Reuters quoted a Guards commander as saying.