White House considering putting Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on terror list


WASHINGTON DC: US President Donald Trump’s administration is considering a proposal that could lead to potentially designating Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist organisation.

The officials said several US government agencies have been consulted about such a proposal, which if implemented would add to measures the United States has already imposed on individuals and entities linked to the IRGC.

The IRGC is by far Iran’s most powerful security entity, which also has control over large stakes in Iran’s economy and huge influence in its political system. The Revolutionary Guards answer directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose power far surpasses that of Rouhani, and is considered a major pillar of the Supreme Leader’s authority.

No copy of the proposal has come to surface. The order could come in the form of an executive order directing the State Department to consider designating the IRGC as a terrorist group. It is unclear whether Trump would sign such an order. While Iran denies any involvement in terrorism, it is worthy to note that both the President and his Secretary of Defense have described Iran as the “largest state sponsor of terrorism.” The White House is yet to respond to a request for a comment on the matter.

Several draft orders on other topics have been circulated among US agencies, only to be rejected or postponed by the Trump administration. Just last week, foreign agencies reported that officials were debating whether to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, but that decision appears to have been indefinitely postponed.


Naming Iran’s single most powerful military and political institution as a terrorist group could have potentially destabilising effects, including further inflaming regional conflicts in which the United States and regional arch-rivals blame Iran for interference. Allegations periodically denied by Iran.

It would also likely complicate the US fight against Islamic State in Iraq, where Shia militant group backed by Iran and advised by IRGC fighters are battling the Sunni militant group.

Some of Trump’s more hawkish advisors in the White House have been urging him to increase sanctions on Iran since his administration began to take shape. After tightening sanctions against Iran last week in response to a ballistic missile test, White House officials said the measures were an “initial” step. US Gulf allies have also long favoured a tougher US stance against Iran.

But officials said the process for issuing potentially controversial orders has slowed considerably in the wake of the political and legal uproar over Trump’s order to ban entry to the United States from seven majority-Muslim countries, which is now the focus of a federal appeals court battle.

The United States has already blacklisted dozens of entities and people for affiliations with the IRGC. In 2007, the US Treasury Department designated the IRGC’s Quds Force, its elite unit in charge of operations abroad, “for its support of terrorism,” and has said it is Iran’s “primary arm for executing its policy of supporting terrorist and insurgent groups.”

Designating the entire IRGC as a terrorist group would potentially have much broader implications, including for the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated between Iran and the United States and other major world powers.

The nuclear deal, which has been harshly criticised by Republicans in Congress and the President for giving Iran too much and not placing tight enough restrictions on the country granted Iran relief from most Western sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Agencies reported last week that the IRGC designation is among the proposals being considered as part of an Iran policy review by the Trump administration. The objective would be to dissuade foreign investment in Iran’s economy, because of the IRGC’s involvement in major sectors including transportation and oil. In many cases, that involvement is hidden behind layers of opaque ownership.

“The new administration regards Iran as the clearest danger to US interests, and they’ve been looking for ways to turn up the heat,” said a senior US official who has been involved in what he called a broad review of the US Iran policy.

The official said that rather than tearing up the nuclear agreement, a step even Israel and Saudi Arabia oppose, the White House might turn instead toward punishing Iran for its support for Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Houthi rebels in Yemen, and some Shia forces in Iraq, as well as covert support for Shia who oppose the Sunni regime in Bahrain, and cyber attacks on Saudi and other Gulf Arab targets.

But sanctioning the IRGC could backfire, the official warned. It could strengthen the hardliners and undercut more moderate leaders such as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and encourage Iranian-backed forces in Iraq and Syria to curtail any action against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and perhaps even sponsor actions against US-backed or even American forces battling Islamic State in Iraq.

“The Iranians will not take any US action lying down,” said the official, admitting that “They may not act quickly or in the open, but there is a danger of an escalating conflict.”

Current US sanctions include penalties for foreign companies which knowingly conducting “significant” transactions with the Revolutionary Guards, or other sanctioned Iranian entities. However, many companies in which the Revolutionary Guards have an interest or own are not blacklisted, and have been able to sign foreign deals.

Sanctions lawyers say the fine print of existing US sanctions allows foreign companies to continue to deal with some IRGC-held firms indirectly.