BY REBECCA KHEEL – 04/08/19 10:20 AM EDT
The Trump administration announced Monday it is labeling Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a “foreign terrorist organization,” the first time the United States has applied the label to an entire government entity in a move designed to significantly ramp up the pressure on Tehran.
“This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences,” President Trump said in a statement Monday. “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 announcement comes a little less than a month before the one-year anniversary of Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal.
The designation of the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) comes with sanctions such as freezing any assets that might be in the United States and a ban on Americans doing business with the Guard.
The IRGC controls large swaths of the Iranian economy and answers directly to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Dozens of people and entities associated with the Guard, including its Quds Force, have previously been blacklisted, but Monday’s announcement is the first time any state-run military has been listed as a foreign terrorist organization.
Reports of Trump mulling the move against the IRGC have surfaced since the early days of his presidency, and past administrations also considered doing it.
But they held off amid warnings from the Pentagon and intelligence community that the designation could complicate military and diplomatic work by prohibiting contact with foreign officials who have worked with Guard.
There have also been fears of retaliation against U.S. military personnel abroad, and U.S. commanders reportedly issued a warning to their troops ahead of Monday’s announcement.
In particular, in Iraq, where U.S. troops continue working to prevent ISIS’ resurgence, Shiite militias with ties to the Guard operate in close proximity to U.S. forces.
In anticipation of the move, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zharif tweeted Sunday that Trump “should know better than to be conned into another US disaster,” suggesting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a driving force in the decision.
“#NetanyahuFirsters who have long agitated for FTO designation of the IRGC fully understand its consequences for US forces in the region,” Zharif tweeted. “In fact, they seek to drag US into a quagmire on his behalf.”
Iran hawks in the United States have long agitated for designating the IRGC a terrorist organization, arguing that it is both an accurate label and will send a strong message to Tehran.