Trump administration labels Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terror group

The Trump administration announced Monday it is labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization,” the first time the United States has applied the label to an entire government entity in a move designed to significantly ramp up the pressure on Tehran.

“This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences,” President Trump said in a statement Monday. “We will continue to increase financial pressure and raise the costs on the Iranian regime for its support of terrorist activity until it abandons its malign and outlaw behavior.”

The designation will take effect one week from Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters at the State Department shortly after Trump issued his statement.

“This designation is a direct response to an outlaw regime and should surprise no one,” Pompeo said. “The IRGC masquerades as a legitimate military organization, but none of us should be fooled.”

The announcement comes a little less than a month before the one-year anniversary of Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.

The designation of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which controls large swaths of the Iranian economy and answers directly to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, comes with sanctions such as freezing any assets that might be in the United States and a ban on Americans doing business with the Guard.

Dozens of people and entities associated with the Guard, including its Quds Force, have previously been blacklisted, but Monday’s announcement is the first time any state-run military has been listed as a foreign terrorist organization.
“We’re doing it because the Iranian regime’s use of terrorism as a tool of statecraft is fundamentally different from any other government,” Pompeo said of taking the unprecedented step of designating a government entity.

Reports of Trump mulling the move against the Guard have surfaced since the early days of his presidency, and past administrations also considered doing it.

But they held off amid warnings from the Pentagon and intelligence community that the designation could complicate military and diplomatic work by prohibiting contact with foreign officials who have worked with the Guard.

There have also been fears of retaliation against U.S. military personnel abroad, and U.S. commanders reportedly issued a warning to their troops ahead of Monday’s announcement.

In particular, in Iraq, where U.S. troops continue working to prevent the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria's resurgence, Shiite militias with ties to the Guard operate in close proximity to U.S. forces.

There are also potential complications in Lebanon, where the Guard has close ties to Hezbollah, whose political wing is part of the Lebanese government.

Despite those concerns, administration officials argued Monday the designation is necessary to protect Americans by draining the IRGC of its resources. Last week, the administration released updated numbers of Americans killed in Iraq by Iran-backed militias, placing the toll at 603.

“The IRGC has been threatening American troops almost since its inception,” Brian Hook, the administration’s special envoy for Iran, said at the State Department. “What endangers American troops in the Middle East is an IRGC that operates with impunity and never has its ambitions checked in the Middle East.”

Pompeo also warned that Iran should “think more than twice about” attacking U.S. personnel.

Nathan Sales, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, insisted the designation “will not impede our diplomacy.” He also stressed that the administration takes “force protection very, very seriously,” while declining to elaborate on specific steps the administration is taking to protect U.S. personnel in the wake of the announcement.

In anticipation of the move, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Sunday that Trump “should know better than to be conned into another US disaster,” suggesting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a driving force in the decision.

“#NetanyahuFirsters who have long agitated for [foreign terrorist organization] designation of the [Guard] fully understand its consequences for US forces in the region,” Zarif tweeted. “In fact, they seek to drag US into a quagmire on his behalf.”

In his own tweet Monday, Netanyahu thanked Trump for "responding to another important request of mine," adding it "serves the interests of our countries and countries of the region."

"We will continue to work together in every way against the Iranian regime, which threatens the State of Israel, the US and world peace," Netanyahu tweeted in Hebrew.

Netanyahu faces a tough reelection bid in Israel’s elections, which are Tuesday.

Administration officials brushed off questions Monday about Trump making the announcement to help Netanyahu’s re-election, stressing in a background call with reporters that Trump has “long believed” the IRGC should be labeled a terrorist group.

Iran hawks in the United States have long agitated for designating the Guard a terrorist organization, arguing that it is both an accurate label and will send a strong message to Tehran.

“I applaud @realDonaldTrump and his administration for taking the long overdue step of designating Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tweeted Monday. “Today's announcement should be followed by measures to hold the IRGC accountable for its malign activities, incl ballistic missile proliferation, Iran's drive for nuclear weapons, the war in Yemen, human rights atrocities, bolstering the Assad regime & financing Hezbollah.”

In the background call Monday, administration officials also highlighted a bipartisan Senate bill from 2007 that urged then-President George W. Bush to designate the IRGC a foreign terrorist organization. Co-sponsors included then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Those who oppose the decision, though, argue the designation leads the United States closer to conflict with Iran.

“This decision does not in any way, shape or form serve U.S. national security,” Trita Parsi, founder of the National Iranian American Council, said in a statement Monday. “On the contrary, it makes America less safe by making war more likely.”

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