On April 8th, the already tense relations between the US and Iran got even more strained. The US President Donald Trump announced the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organization.
Trump said the decision “underscores the fact that Iran’s actions are fundamentally different from those of other governments” and vowed to continue increasing financial pressure on Tehran until “it abandons its malign and outlaw behavior”.
“It makes crystal clear the risks of conducting business with, or providing support to, the IRGC. If you are doing business with the IRGC, you will be bankrolling terrorism,” he said.
In an important step to counter the Iranian regime’s terrorism, the U.S. has designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, incl. Qods Force, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. We must help the people of Iran get back their freedom. pic.twitter.com/T65CxJjRrr
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) April 8, 2019
Pompeo said that the blacklisting takes effect on April 15th.
Economic and travel sanctions on the elite military group mean any group or individual that does business with the IRGC could face criminal prosecution for providing material support to a terrorist organization.
“This historic step will deprive the world’s leading state sponsor of terror the financial means to spread misery and death around the world,” Pompeo said. He warned that businesses with a presence in Iran or engaged with its companies will have to take extra steps to ensure they are not violating US sanctions.
Brian Hook, a senior policy adviser to Pompeo, said that the IRGC controls “up to half Iran’s economy.”
“It is absolutely the case that the IRGC amounts to a significant amount of the Iranian economy through pure kleptocracy,” Pompeo said. “Businesses and banks around the world now have a clear duty to ensure that companies with which they conduct transactions are not connected to the IRGC in any material way.”
Saudi Arabia on April 9th welcomed the US decision.
Iran reciprocated by naming US Central Command (CENTCOM) as a terrorist organization and dubbed the US as “state sponsor of terrorism.”
— IRNA News Agency (@IrnaEnglish) April 8, 2019
“The Islamic Republic of Iran declares itself in reciprocity against the unlawful and unreasonable action of the United States today, considering the United States as a terrorist sponsored government and the Central Command of the United States, CENTCOM, and all its affiliated forces as terrorist groups,” the National Security Council of the Islamic Republic of Iran said in a statement. “Obviously, the US regime will take all the responsibility for the dangerous consequences of this undertaking,” the statement said.
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani called the move a “sign of US idiocy.”
“Who does not know that IRGC has inflicted the harshest blows to the dreadful terrorist groups in the region?,” Larijani added in a reference to ISIS.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, for his part, criticised Trump’s decision as “another dangerous US misadventure” in the Middle East and a “misguided election-eve gift” to Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, Iran’s regional archenemy.
A(nother) misguided election-eve gift to Netanyahu. A(nother) dangerous U.S. misadventure in the region.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 8, 2019
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned the US decision and announced the response measure in a televised speech.
“They (the enemies) created and funded cells and provided them with explosives to kill Iranian officials, people and the revolutionaries to push them again under the US hegemony.
So, do you expect the US and the Zionist regime not to hold grudges on IRGC?
All their plots against the Iranian people were foiled through the efforts of the entire nation including the youth, women and men, all ethnic groups, Shias and Sunnis who all stood with each other, with IRGC as their big flag-bearer,” Rouhani said.
According to Rouhani, the US was trying to cover up its failure by demonizing Iran.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei also commented on the US decision saying that it thinks it can “throw a spanner” in the work of the Islamic Revolution, but that it would fail.
The decision by both sovereign states to mutually name a part of the other’s government a terrorist organization is a precedent in modern history.
It comes down to speculation what the consequences would be.
CNN cited anonymous senior US officials who said that the IRGC designation pose threats for all US troops in the Middle East.
Asked about the risks to US troops in the Middle East and particularly in Iraq, Hook told reporters at the State Department that “the decision leading up to this process was a full interagency process that included every member of the NSC. We have taken all measures that are appropriate and prudent in the context of this designation.”
He added that “whenever we and other nations call out and expose the regime for what it is, it behaves like a mafia organization increasing its threats. We will not be deterred by their threats.”
Nathan Sales, the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, said the agency would not discuss details of measures being taken to ensure the safety of US personnel.
“I can assure you that we take force protection very, very seriously. And that is why we have run a robust interagency process to make sure that all interested parties are prepared for whatever the Iranian regime might throw at us,” he said
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif also warned that there would be consequences for US forces in the region.
#NetanyahuFirsters who have long agitated for FTO designation of the IRGC fully understand its consequences for US forces in the region. In fact, they seek to drag US into a quagmire on his behalf.@realDonaldTrump should know better than to be conned into another US disaster. pic.twitter.com/i4bcfgxybT
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) April 7, 2019
Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said it was “fitting that the most dangerous terrorist group in the world, responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents and backed by a massive state apparatus and vast energy wealth, is being designated finally as a foreign terrorist organization.”
The designation now means “the US government can truly unleash its full economic, prosecutorial and political powers” to punish Iran, Dubowitz said.
Expectedly, Israel welcomed the decision, since Iran is practically its nemesis.
Thank you, President @realDonaldTrump for your decision to designate the Islamic revolutionary guards as a terrorist organization.
Once again you are keeping the world safe from Iran aggression and terrorism.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) April 8, 2019
“Thank you for responding to another one of my important requests, that serves our interests and the interests of regional countries,” Netanyahu was also cited as saying.
If this was Trump answering an Israeli request, this marks a continuation of the US propagating Israel’s interests, similarly to the March 21st recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.
A likely scenario that the Trump administration is seeking with all the pressure on Iran is the following: Provoke Iran into bolting from the JCPOA, re-starting its nuclear program, and escalating its regional behavior, thereby providing the United States or its regional partners with a pretext to use military force against the Islamic Republic.
Their timeline is 18 months if Donald Trump is not re-elected. Whether it will happen or not, is still unclear.
Most likely, however, the designation might lead to greater instability in a region that’s already quite volatile.
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