US labels Iran unit ‘terrorist’


Richard Moore

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Iranian Unit to Be Labeled 'Terrorist'
U.S. Moving Against Revolutionary Guard
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 15, 2007; A01

The United States has decided to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, the
country's 125,000-strong elite military branch, as a "specially designated 
global terrorist," according to U.S. officials, a move that allows Washington to
target the group's business operations and finances.

The Bush administration has chosen to move against the Revolutionary Guard Corps
because of what U.S. officials have described as its growing involvement in Iraq
and Afghanistan as well as its support for extremists throughout the Middle 
East, the sources said. The decision follows congressional pressure on the 
administration to toughen its stance against Tehran, as well as U.S. frustration
with the ineffectiveness of U.N. resolutions against Iran's nuclear program, 
officials said.

The designation of the Revolutionary Guard will be made under Executive Order 
13224, which President Bush signed two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks 
to obstruct terrorist funding. It authorizes the United States to identify 
individuals, businesses, charities and extremist groups engaged in terrorist 
activities. The Revolutionary Guard would be the first national military branch 
included on the list, U.S. officials said -- a highly unusual move because it is
part of a government, rather than a typical non-state terrorist organization.

The order allows the United States to block the assets of terrorists and to 
disrupt operations by foreign businesses that "provide support, services or 
assistance to, or otherwise associate with, terrorists."

The move reflects escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran over issues 
including Iraq and Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran has been on the State 
Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1984, but in May the two 
countries began their first formal one-on-one dialogue in 28 years with a 
meeting of diplomats in Baghdad.

The main goal of the new designation is to clamp down on the Revolutionary 
Guard's vast business network, as well as on foreign companies conducting 
business linked to the military unit and its personnel. The administration plans
to list many of the Revolutionary Guard's financial operations.

"Anyone doing business with these people will have to reevaluate their actions 
immediately," said a U.S. official familiar with the plan who spoke on the 
condition of anonymity because the decision has not been announced. "It 
increases the risks of people who have until now ignored the growing list of 
sanctions against the Iranians. It makes clear to everyone who the IRGC and 
their related businesses really are. It removes the excuses for doing business 
with these people."

For weeks, the Bush administration has been debating whether to target the 
Revolutionary Guard Corps in full, or only its Quds Force wing, which U.S. 
officials have linked to the growing flow of explosives, roadside bombs, rockets
and other arms to Shiite militias in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The 
Quds Force also lends support to Shiite allies such as Lebanon's Hezbollah and 
to Sunni movements such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Although administration discussions continue, the initial decision is to target 
the entire Guard Corps, U.S. officials said. The administration has not yet 
decided when to announce the new measure, but officials said they would prefer 
to do so before the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly next month, when the 
United States intends to increase international pressure against Iran.

Formed in 1979 and originally tasked with protecting the world's only modern 
theocracy, the Revolutionary Guard took the lead in battling Iraq during the 
bloody Iran-Iraq war waged from 1980 to 1988. The Guard, also known as the 
Pasdaran, has since become a powerful political and economic force in Iran. 
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose through the ranks of the 
Revolutionary Guard and came to power with support from its network of veterans.
Its leaders are linked to many mainstream businesses in Iran.

"They are heavily involved in everything from pharmaceuticals to 
telecommunications and pipelines -- even the new Imam Khomeini Airport and a 
great deal of smuggling," said Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations. 
"Many of the front companies engaged in procuring nuclear technology are owned 
and run by the Revolutionary Guards. They're developing along the lines of the 
Chinese military, which is involved in many business enterprises. It's a huge 
business conglomeration."

The Revolutionary Guard Corps -- with its own navy, air force, ground forces and
special forces units -- is a rival to Iran's conventional troops. Its naval 
forces abducted 15 British sailors and marines this spring, sparking an 
international crisis, and its special forces armed Lebanon's Hezbollah with 
missiles used against Israel in the 2006 war. The corps also plays a key role in
Iran's military industries, including the attempted acquisition of nuclear 
weapons and surface-to-surface missiles, according to Anthony H. Cordesman of 
the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The United States took punitive action against Iran after the November 1979 
takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, including the breaking of diplomatic 
ties and the freezing of Iranian assets in the United States. More recently, 
dozens of international banks and financial institutions reduced or eliminated 
their business with Iran after a quiet campaign by the Treasury Department and 
State Department aimed at limiting Tehran's access to the international 
financial system. Over the past year, two U.N. resolutions have targeted the 
assets and movements of 28 people -- including some Revolutionary Guard members 
-- linked to Iran's nuclear program.

The key obstacle to stronger international pressure against Tehran has been 
China, Iran's largest trading partner. After the Iranian government refused to 
comply with two U.N. Security Council resolutions dealing with its nuclear 
program, Beijing balked at a U.S. proposal for a resolution that would have 
sanctioned the Revolutionary Guard, U.S. officials said.

China's actions reverse a cycle during which Russia was the most reluctant among
the veto-wielding members of the Security Council. "China used to hide behind 
Russia, but Russia is now hiding behind China," said a U.S. official familiar 
with negotiations.

The administration's move comes amid growing support in Congress for the Iran 
Counter-Proliferation Act, which was introduced in the Senate by Gordon Smith 
(R-Ore.) and in the House by Tom Lantos (D-Calif.). The bill already has the 
support of 323 House members.

The administration's move could hurt diplomatic efforts, some analysts said. "It
would greatly complicate our efforts to solve the nuclear issue," said Joseph 
Cirincione, a nuclear proliferation expert at the Center for American Progress. 
"It would tie an end to Iran's nuclear program to an end to its support of 
allies in Hezbollah and Hamas. The only way you could get a nuclear deal is as 
part of a grand bargain, which at this point is completely out of reach."

Such sanctions can work only alongside diplomatic efforts, Cirincione added.

"Sanctions can serve as a prod, but they have very rarely forced a country to 
capitulate or collapse," he said. "All of us want to back Iran into a corner, 
but we want to give them a way out, too. [The designation] will convince many in
Iran's elite that there's no point in talking with us and that the only thing 
that will satisfy us is regime change."

Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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