Why Designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

August 17th, 2007 - by admin

Robin Wright /Washington Post & Chantal de Jonge Oudraat,Jean-Luc Marret / SF Chronicle & Robin Wright / Washington Post – 2007-08-17 23:56:50


Iranian Unit to Be Labeled ‘Terrorist’
US Moving Against Revolutionary Guard

Robin Wright /Washington Post

(August 15, 2007) — 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 US 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 US 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 US frustration with the ineffectiveness of UN 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, US 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 US 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 US 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, US 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 US 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 UN 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 US proposal for a resolution that would have sanctioned the Revolutionary Guard, US 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 US 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.

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Sanctions on Iran’s Guard Are a Bad Idea
Chantal de Jonge Oudraat,Jean-Luc Marret / SF Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO (August 17, 2007) — The Bush administration is considering designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization. It is doing so under a presidential executive order adopted following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Putting the Revolutionary Guard on the list allows the United States to put into place financial sanctions and freeze any assets the Guard has in the United States.

The administration considers the Guard terrorists because it has fomented and supported attacks on American forces in Iraq. It also accuses the Guard of supplying arms to the Taliban and linkages with Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations around the world

Proponents for the terrorist designation have made three main arguments in favor of the measure. First, they have argued that this will allow the United States “to clamp down on the vast business network” of the Guard, the main branch of Iran’s military forces, and hence be a powerful measure to induce a change of behavior by the Iranian government.

Second, they claim that it would help to press America’s allies to adopt stronger sanctions against Iran within the UN Security Council. Third, they have argued that it would appease, at least for a while, Bush administration hawks who are seeking military action against Iran.

All three arguments are misguided and the result of wishful thinking.

First, it is unlikely that the Guard has any easily identifiable financial assets in the United States. In addition, such assets would presumably have been removed from the United States in 1984 when the United States declared Iran a state sponsor of terrorism.

In addition, the Iranian government will certainly see adoption of this measure as a confrontational and escalatory measure. Many of the approximately 125,000 Guardsmen, including their families, will concur. Adoption of this measure might thus provoke “a rally around the flag” effect — that is, bolster support for the Iranian government. This fear is confirmed by reactions of Iranian reformists after plans for the measure became public.

Second, the United States has no international support for this measure. Talks within the UN Security Council about stronger sanctions against Iran have run into opposition. Many Security Council members feel that stronger sanctions would have an adverse effect — and encourage a rallying behind the regime.

A unilateral decision by the United States to forge ahead now might well indicate the end of further talks on this issue within the Security Council. This would undercut the desired effect of the measure. It might also undermine the United States efforts to get greater UN support for dealing with the political situation in Iraq.

Finally, in terms of domestic politics, the adoption of this measure is no winner as the American people show little appetite for expanding conflict in the Persian Gulf. Bush administration hawks, however, might see its adoption as a victory and a step up the escalatory ladder.

So, what should the Bush administration do?

For starters, it should continue talks within the UN Security Council and forge a broad-based international coalition to put pressure on the Iranian government to open up its uranium enrichment plants. This should remain the No. 1 goal — not regime change. Without international support, any type of sanction will be ineffective.

In addition, the Bush administration would be well advised to start working on a package of incentives that would make it attractive for the Iranian government to cooperate with the international community.

At a minimum, it might provide the Iranian opposition with a larger range of arguments to counter the government. The imposition of sanctions will most likely smother the opposition.

Chantal de Jonge Oudraat is a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Transatlantic Relations. Jean-Luc Marret is a visiting fellow at the center and Research Fellow at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris.

As US Steps Up Pressure on Iran, Aftereffects Worry Allies
Robin Wright / Washington Post

{August 16, 2007) — America’s allies are increasingly concerned about the Bush administration’s plans to unilaterally escalate pressure on Iran, fearing that an evolving strategy may also set in motion a process that could lead to military action if Iran does not back down, according to diplomats and officials of foreign countries.

Although they share deep concern about Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions, European and Arab governments are particularly alarmed about new U.S. moves, including plans to cite Iran’s entire Revolutionary Guard Corps as a “specially designated global terrorist.” The move would block the elite unit’s assets and pressure foreign companies doing business with its vast commercial network.

Allies are less concerned about that step than they are about the new momentum behind it, and the potential for spillover in a region reeling with multiple conflicts. “If the region is strewn with crises, then there’s potential for real disaster. There’s a fear that they will all merge into a super-emergency bigger than any one country can deal with,” a leading Arab envoy said.

Language from the State Department yesterday triggered further alarm. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters: “We are confronting Iranian behavior across a variety of different fronts on a number of different ‘battlefields,’ if you will. We are confronting Iran’s behavior in arming and providing material support to those groups that are going after our troops. We confront them on the ground in Iraq. Our military is doing that. We are confronting Iran diplomatically in the international arena with respect to their nuclear program.”

European envoys expressed alarm at the use of “battlefield” in describing policy on Iran.

It was a two-way street, however. Yahya Rahim Safavi, commander of the Revolutionary Guard, said yesterday that Iranian missiles can hit warships anywhere in the Persian Gulf. The United States has a carrier battle group in the Gulf.

At home, even lawmakers supportive of tougher sanctions on Iran pointedly urged the administration not to stray beyond diplomacy. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and sponsor of the pending Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, welcomed the move and said foreign banks will think twice about dealing with enterprises linked to the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard Corps.

But Lantos also said that the United States is “far from having exhausted all the peaceful options for putting Tehran’s leadership on the right path.” He added: “Any talk of military intervention is unwise and unsupported by Congress and the American people.”

U.S. specialists on Iran also warned about the unintended consequences of designating a state’s military force a terrorist group.

“While this step can deal a blow to efforts to utilize diplomacy with Iran to stabilize Iraq, the long-term effects can be even more decisive by further entrenching U.S.-Iran relations in a paradigm of enmity,” said Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council.

George Percovich of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said that unilaterally sanctioning the Revolutionary Guard’s corporate interests makes sense if it avoids the prospect of not doing so in a new U.N. resolution. But he expressed concern about the political costs. “You have to show that there is a way out, and that the U.S. doesn’t have an unending set of demands and isn’t going to continue to press on for either military action or regime change, which many other countries think is the real U.S. objective,” he said.

Geoffrey Kemp, who worked on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan administration, said that the United States should instead be pressuring Europe to adopt U.S. sanctions dating to 1995 to cut off investment in any Iranian businesses and industry. “That would have a far more significant impact on the debate inside Iran over its nuclear policy,” he said.
Michael McFaul of Stanford University also urged more carrots.

“If you want democratic regime change and to destabilize the regime, the best thing you could do is to make an offer about massive negotiations about everything — human rights and state sponsorship in terrorism, as well as lifting [U.S.] sanctions and opening an embassy,” he said. “Politically, this step doesn’t help the administration undermine the regime — it helps to consolidate the regime.”

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