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WASHINGTON (AP) – The United States on Monday designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, an unprecedented declaration against a foreign government.
It is the first time that the U.S. has designated an entity of another government as a terrorist organization, placing a group with vast economic resources that answers only to Iran’s supreme leader in the same category as al-Qaida and the Islamic State.
“This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognizes the reality that Iran is not only a state sponsor of terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft,” President Donald Trump said in announcing the measure.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the designation is intended to increase pressure on Iran, isolating it further and diverting some of the financial resources it uses to fund terrorism and militant activity in the Middle East and beyond. Speaking to reporters, he rattled off a list of attacks dating to the 1980s for which the U.S. holds Iran and the IRGC responsible, beginning with the attacks on the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983.
No waivers or exceptions to the sanctions were announced, meaning U.S. troops and diplomats could be barred from speaking with Iraqi or Lebanese authorities who have dealings with Guard officials or surrogates. Such contact occurs now between U.S. officials in Iraq who deal with Iranian-affiliated Shiite militias and in Lebanon, where the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement is in parliament and the government.
The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies had raised concerns about the impact of the designation if the move did not allow contact with other foreign officials who may have met with or communicated with Guard personnel. Those concerns have in part dissuaded previous administrations from taking the step, which has been considered for more than a decade.
The IRGC is a paramilitary organization formed in the wake of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution to defend the government. The force answers only to Iran’s supreme leader, operates independently of the regular military and has vast economic interests across the country. The U.S. estimates it may control or have a significant influence over up to 50 percent of the Iranian economy, including non-military sectors like banking and shipping.
Iran has long been designated a “state sponsor of terrorism” by the U.S. and the State Department currently designates more than 60 organizations as “foreign terrorist organizations.” But none of them is a state-run military.
Iran immediately responded to the designation with its Supreme National Security Council designating the U.S. Central Command, also known as CENTCOM, and all its forces as terrorist, and labeling the U.S. a “supporter of terrorism.”
The Council denounced the U.S. decision as “illegal and dangerous” and said the U.S. government would be responsible for all “dangerous repercussions” of its decision. It defended the IRGC, which has fought Islamic State fighters, as being a force against terrorism.