Thursday, October 25, 2007

US Imposes Unprecedented Sanctions on Iran and Its Military

Today, the Bush administration is officially rolling out an unprecedented package of unilateral sanctions against Iran, including designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and labeling its elite Quds force as a supporter of terrorism. The move is extremely significant and will most certainly have negative ramifications for US-Iran relations (or the lack thereof) and make it even more difficult to move towards resolving tensions between the two countries through diplomacy and engagement.

According to a Washington Post article by Robin Wright:

"The administration will designate the entire Revolutionary Guard under Executive Order 13382, signed by President Bush in June 2005, which allows the United States to freeze the assets of any proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and its supporters. Iran is being designated for its ballistic missile program. The United States will announce a list of Iranians involved in that program -- civilians as well as military officials -- who will also be designated, U.S. officials said.

"Under the same executive order, the administration also intends to designate Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, which controls Iran's defense industries, as well as companies owned or controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, U.S. officials said.

"The overall impact, according to U.S. officials, will be to make a pariah of the most critical parts of Iran's military and its defense and commercial industries.

"The Quds Force, the foreign operations branch of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, will be designated separately as a supporter of terrorism under Executive Order 13224, which Bush signed two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to obstruct terrorist funding, U.S. officials said. It authorizes the United States to identify individuals, businesses, charities and extremist groups engaged in terrorism."

One thing that is particularly troubling about this move is that the administration is viewing it as part of its diplomatic effort. A senior administration official who was quoted in the Washington Post article on the condition of anonymity said, "This is a very powerful set of measures designed to send a message to Iran that there will be a cost to what they do. We decided on them because we have seen no change in Iranian behavior. Our diplomacy needs to be stronger and more effective." Let's be clear, these designations, as well as increased unilateral sanctions, are punitive measures. The Bush administration has not and is not engaged in any sustained or strategic diplomatic initiative with Iran.

The designations of Quds Force and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will only undermine US security interests, including in Iraq by putting US troops and personnel at risk of retaliation and hampering talks with Iran over Iraq security. The IRGC is both a political and military force in Iran and its members are deeply embedded in the country’s political and economic structure. It is not clear who controls the force, though they are under the nominal control of the Supreme Leader. They act as self-appointed guardians of the revolution and they operate as a vast and nebulous network that usually does not act in unison or take a single position. The IRGC is it is very much a reflection of the disparities in Iran now. There are those who want increased engagement and openness and those who do not.

The US designations will likely undermine any proponents of reform and moderation inside Iran. The designation is also likely to undermine proponents of engagement with the US and the West. The designations could also bring a backlash against Iranian citizens working for democracy and reform.

The members of the IRGC who are responsible for their expansion into the economic arena, espcially the oil and gas sector are badly affected by the economic isolation and sanctions because they need external expertise and support. On the other hand, members of the IRGC who are involved in nefarious activities, including oil smuggling and other clandestine activities have no interest in increased engagement. For them the isolation is a boon.

US policies that encourage isolation will only play directly into the hands of those who want isolation in Iran and undermine the moderates and middle ground.

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