Tuesday April 9, 2019
By Lesley Wroughton, Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO - Members of the Iranian revolutionary guard march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer
WASHINGTON/DUBAI (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said on Monday he would name Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, in an unprecedented step that drew Iranian condemnation and raised concerns about retaliatory attacks on U.S. forces.
The action by Trump, who has taken a hard line toward Iran by
withdrawing from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and re-imposing broad
economic sanctions, marks the first time the United States has formally
labeled another nation’s military a terrorist group. The U.S.
step, which takes effect on April 15, prompted an immediate response
from Iran, whose Supreme National Security Council in turn designated
U.S. military forces as a “terrorist organization,” Iranian state-run TV
“The U.S. military bases and their military forces in
the region will be considered terrorist bases and terrorist forces that
will be dealt with and confronted accordingly,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign
Minister Abbas Araqchi told Iranian state TV, calling the U.S. decision
“a major strategic mistake.”
“The IRGC is the Iranian
government’s primary means of directing and implementing its global
terrorist campaign,” Trump said in a statement. His administration has
long criticized Iran for its influence in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
of Trump’s decision said it was largely symbolic because U.S. law
already carried penalties of up to 20 years in prison for U.S. persons
who deal with the IRGC because of its designation under another U.S.
sanctions program, the U.S. Specially Designated Global Terrorist list.
U.S. military commanders share Trump’s concerns about Iran and the IRGC
but long opposed the designation due to concern over a potential
backlash against U.S. forces in the Middle East and the problems it
could create for U.S. partners who have a relationship with Iran, U.S.
The Pentagon declined to discuss what
the U.S. military was doing to protect American troops from any
retaliation by the IRGC or Iran-aligned militia in places like Iraq.
officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the designation did
not mean the U.S. military would start treating the IRGC like al Qaeda,
Islamic State or other militants that it can target at will.
is not about going to war with Iran or killing a bunch of Iranians.
Absolutely not,” said one, adding the U.S. military had not been given
any new direction to “go after” Iranian forces.
Three Iranian officials said that despite Tehran’s harsh rhetoric, Iran’s reaction will be “diplomatic and mild.”
Blazakis, a former State Department official who oversaw the process
for labeling foreign terrorist organizations, said he believed the IRGC
designation was done for purely symbolic and domestic political reasons
that could have deadly consequences for U.S. troops.
He said it
could prompt Qassem Soleimani, the powerful commander of the Quds Force,
the IRGC’s elite foreign espionage and paramilitary contingent, to
allow IRGC-controlled Shi’ite Muslim militias to retaliate against U.S.
forces in Iraq.
“I imagine that tight leash he (Soleimani) has
had on them (Shi’ite militias) will be less tight. He could call for
them to take actions against U.S. assets in places like Baghdad’s Green
Zone,” he continued, referring to the Iraqi capital’s diplomatic and
The only “theoretical benefit” the
designation could provide is to make it slightly easier for the Justice
Department to prosecute people for providing “material support” to the
IRGC, he said. The Department already has the authority for similar
prosecutions under an executive order signed by President George W. Bush
soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by al Qaeda.
GUARDS’ HUGE INFLUENCE
IRGC is in charge of Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
Tehran has warned that it has missiles with a range of up to 2,000 km
(1,242 miles), putting Israel and U.S. military bases in the region
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is
up for reelection on Tuesday, warmly welcomed the designation and
tweeted “Thank you, my dear friend, U.S. President Donald Trump... for
meeting another of my important requests.”
Set up after
Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution to protect the Shi’ite clerical ruling
system, the Guards have great sway in Iran’s political system,
controlling swathes of the economy and armed forces.
involvement in Iran’s banking and shipping industries could complicate
matters with U.S. allies including the European Union. The new
designation makes it easier to prosecute EU or other companies or
individuals that do business with Iran.
The Iranian currency
weakened on Monday, falling to 143,000 rials to the U.S. dollar from
Sunday’s rate of 138,000 rials, according to the website Mesghal.com.
The United States has already blacklisted dozens of entities and
people for affiliations with the IRGC, but not the organization as a
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a strident critic of
Iran, has pushed for the change in U.S. policy as part of the Trump
administration’s tough posture toward Tehran.
“This designation is a direct response to an outlaw regime and should surprise no one,” Pompeo said.
State Department said on Monday the IRGC has been engaged in terrorist
activity since its inception, including the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing
in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans, and a foiled plan to attack
the Saudi ambassador to the United States on U.S. soil.
administrations considered designating the entire IRGC as a foreign
terrorist organization but decided the risk to U.S. forces overseas was
too great, former U.S. officials said.
by Lesley Wroughton in Washington and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai;
additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Arshad Mohammed, Jonathan Landay,
Phil Stewart in Washington; and by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by
Doina Chiacu and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Alistair Bell and Sandra