WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Monday designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a “foreign terrorist organization,” marking the first time the United States has taken such action against a foreign government entity.
The designation is the latest effort by President Donald Trump to increase pressure on Iran via economic and political sanctions, but some critics of the move argue it will make it more difficult for the United States to engage diplomatically with allies in the region, and could prompt other world powers to take similar action against the United States.
State Department officials say the move allows the United States to impose criminal penalties and sanctions against business and entities considered to be aiding Iran’s elite military force.
The Revolutionary Guard, known as the IRGC, was established in the wake of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution to protect the government's leaders. It has long been held responsible by U.S. military and intelligence officials for providing weapons, training and financial assistance to other terrorist groups in the Middle East and for aiding in the killings of U.S. military in Iraq.
Trump in a written statement Monday said: “This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences.”
“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,” Trump said.
Iranian lawmakers in a statement issued through Iran’s state news agency said the nation “will answer any action taken against this force with a reciprocal action.”
“So the leaders of America, who themselves are the creators and supporters of terrorists in the Middle East region, will regret this inappropriate and idiotic action,” lawmakers wrote in a joint statement.
Hours after Trump's announcement, Iran's Supreme National Security Council, designated the U.S. Central Command, also known as CENTCOM, and all its forces as terrorist, and labeled the U.S. a "supporter of terrorism."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a briefing with reporters Monday, said the Revolutionary Guard “organizes and executes terror campaigns around the world.” He cited as an example, the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, where 19 U.S. Air Force personnel living in the complex were killed and hundreds of others were injured.
"This historic step will deprive the world’s leading state sponsor of terror the financial means to spread misery and death around the world," Pompeo said. "Businesses and banks around the world now have a clear duty to ensure that companies with which they conduct financial transactions are not connected to the IRGC in any material way."
The designation comes nearly a year after Trump withdrew from the multinational Iran Nuclear Deal, arguing that the Obama-era accord was “weak” and did little to prevent Iran from developing its ballistic missile program. Foreign allies, including France and Britain, had urged Trump against withdrawing, arguing that without the accord, Iran would have free rein to keep building its arsenal.
Critics of the designation, which has been floated in past administrations, contend it will make it more difficult for the United States to negotiate with other allies in the region who interact with the Guard as part of their own diplomatic efforts.
"This move closes yet another potential door for peacefully resolving tensions with Iran," said Trita Parsi, the founder of the National Iranian American Council. "Once all doors are closed, and diplomacy is rendered impossible, war will essentially become inevitable."
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lauded the designation, saying in a statement it "ends the facade that the IRGC is part of a normal military. They behave like a terrorist organization and will now be treated accordingly."
— With The Associated Press