Amid expectations that U.S. President Donald Trump will decertify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement, there are indications that Washington could up the ante by taking steps to classify one of Tehran’s most powerful institutions as a terrorist organization.
A move by the White House to direct the State Department to consider placing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on its Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) list could mark a significant strengthening of measures already in place against the IRGC, a powerful security and military organization that is a key component of Tehran’s efforts to exert regional influence.
The proposal could come in the form of an executive order, and has been described by the Financial Times as part of a “new hard-line strategy” by the Trump administration against the Islamic republic.
The IRGC was created after the 1979 revolution to protect Iran’s Islamic establishment against internal and external threats and preserve revolutionary ideals.
Domestically, its forces have been involved in enforcing Islamic codes and crushing dissent, and the corps’ intelligence branch is alleged to be behind the arrest of several Iranian-Americans. But it is the IRGC’s foreign activities that could land it on the U.S. list of FTOs: the IRGC’s involvement in covert operations, arms smuggling, and other efforts aimed at expanding Iran’s influence abroad has come under more scrutiny.
An FTO designation could hurt Iran’s economy by deterring financial or business dealings with entities that are part of the IRGC’s vast economic empire; others would find it difficult to prove they do not have ties to the IRGC.
Also, it would likely increase already heightened tensions between Iran and the United States and make the prospects of improved ties highly unlikely.
“The IRGC wields great influence in Iran, so having been just declared a terrorist organization by the U.S., they would be even less inclined to want to allow [Iranian President Hassan] Rohani to engage with the United States in any issues of mutual interest, such as fighting ISIS,” Mark Fitzpatrick, the executive director of the Washington-based office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said.
Others, notably IRGC commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari, have responded harshly, warning that if Washington designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization, Tehran would “consider the American army to be like [the extremist group] Islamic State all around the world.”
The chief of Iran’s nuclear energy agency has said that if the United States designates Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, IRGC as a terror group, “The Islamic Republic…will consider it as a declaration of war”.
Fars news agency, close to the IRGC, reports that Ali Akbar Salehi made this remarks in a meeting with a group of international media personalities.
Salehi is quoted as saying that since the armed forces of a country are guarantors of its security, designating them as terrorist by the U.S. “it is like a declaration of war”.