Trump names Iranian military unit as a terrorist group
WASHINGTON -- The United States moved Monday to list Iran's elite military Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization as the Trump administration looks for new ways to increase economic and political pressure on the Islamic regime in Tehran.
The designation marks the first time Washington has branded a foreign government entity a terrorist group, and came despite warnings from U.S. military and intelligence officials that other nations could use the designation as a precedent against U.S. action abroad.
The announcement also comes one day before Israeli elections in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term with hawkish promises to battle threatening Iranian behavior across the Middle East.
"This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences," Trump said in a statement. "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 terrorist designation, which takes effect April 16, will allow the Trump administration to seek criminal penalties against elements of the military agency and foreign officials deemed to be aiding it.
Designating the IRGC, as the sprawling agency is known, a terrorist organization will also allow Washington to ban travel to the United States for individuals associated with the IRGC.
The White House statement said the unprecedented step "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."
Trump called the IRGC "the Iranian government's primary means of directing and implementing its global terrorist campaign."
U.S. officials have long said that the group's opaque structure and responsibilities provided a mask for terrorist activities that threaten Israelis, Europeans and U.S. forces.
The new State Department designation "underscores the fact that Iran's actions are fundamentally different from those of other governments," Trump's statement said.
This action will significantly expand the scope and scale of our maximum pressure on the Iranian regime. It makes crystal clear the risks of conducting business with, or providing support to, the IRGC. If you are doing business with the IRGC, you will be bankrolling terrorism."
The action has been debated for years, including a renewed consideration last year that included warnings from Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and others about the potential for backlash.
Iranian parliamentarians warned of reciprocal action if the Trump administration acted against the IRGC, Reuters reported citing state news agency IRNA.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the designation makes clear that the IRGC is not just a behind-the-scenes enabler of terrorism, but a direct participant in planning and carrying out terrorist attacks.
The IRGC is a military unit originally set up as security for Iran's clerical rulers. It has grown to be the country's most powerful security organization, with nearly unchecked political influence and interests in business, real estate and other areas of the economy. The United States blames the IRGC for facilitating U.S. service member deaths in Iraq and elsewhere, via financing, training and weapons support to terror networks.
Mark Dubowitz, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said the designation is welcome.
"It is fitting that the most dangerous terrorist group in the world, responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents and backed by a massive state apparatus and vast energy wealth, is being designated finally as a foreign terrorist organization," Dubowitz said.