US lawmakers push to designate Iranian Guards a terror group

Legislation seeks to limit anticipated financial windfall for Tehran from sanctions relief under July nuclear accord

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps are seen at an annual military parade in front of the mausoleum of the late Ayatollah Khomeini just outside Tehran on September 22, 2014. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi/File)
Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps are seen at an annual military parade in front of the mausoleum of the late Ayatollah Khomeini just outside Tehran on September 22, 2014. (AP/Ebrahim Noroozi/File)

Republican lawmakers renewed a push this week to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.

Senator Ted Cruz introduced a Senate bill — the IRGC Terrorist Designation Act — that serves as companion legislation to Rep. Michael McCaul’s House bill, both of which call attention to the fact that the Iranian military organization is not considered a foreign terrorist organization under current State Department designations.

Such a designation provides US law enforcement with enhanced tools to prosecute individuals or groups supporting the organization. Charges can be brought against anyone providing “material support or resources” to the group, including money, identification documents, lodging, training, weapons and transportation. Any foreign member of such an organization can be deported from the United States even if they are in the country legally, and banks are required to freeze any funds tied to designated organizations.

McCaul first introduced legislation calling for the IRGC’s designation in 2012, but it gained new impetus following the nuclear agreement with Iran reached in July – and the failure of the agreement’s opponents to prevent President Barack Obama from lifting sanctions against Tehran. The IRGC is deeply enmeshed in Iran’s military and civilian economy and is likely to be a key beneficiary of some of the anticipated financial windfall as crippling international sanctions are dismantled under the terms of the accord.

The bill’s sponsors believe it will offset some of the benefits the IRGC is expected to receive under the deal.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign those sanctions waivers in mid-October, but they will only go into effect once Iran fulfills its initial obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the agreement’s formal name. Estimates of the cash windfall that Iran will receive from the waivers range from $50 to $100 billion. Even the deal’s proponents acknowledge that some of those funds will likely be used by Iran to subsidize terror and paramilitary activities.

While Iran is considered by the US to be a state sponsor of terror, and the Quds Force, which operates under the auspices of the IRGC, is a designated terror organization, the IRGC is not itself a designated organization.

The bill’s sponsors say that distinction is artificial.

“For more than three decades,” the IRGC “has been a leading proponent of radical Islamic terrorism around the globe,” Cruz said. “Yet for years the United States has sanctioned IRGC entities while leaving the organization itself untouched.

“This long-overdue designation simply recognizes reality and directs our government to remove this artificial distinction and hold the entire IRGC accountable,” Cruz added in a statement Wednesday evening.

“The United States must call the IRGC what it is: a terrorist organization committed to killing Americans and our allies all over the world,” asserted McCaul. “The president claims that sanctions against Iran for its support for terrorism will continue to be enforced in spite of his deal to lift sanctions on the ayatollah’s nuclear program. Designating Iran’s IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization would go a long way in demonstrating that the president is truly committed to combating Iranian terror.”

The IRGC is connected through its paramilitary unit, the Quds Force, to multiple terrorist attacks conducted overseas, as well as to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s suppression of civilians during the ongoing Syrian civil war. A Quds Force-affiliated agent pleaded guilty in 2012 to plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington DC.

The bills’ sponsors highlighted Wednesday the fact that “the US Treasury Department has designated the IRGC Quds Force for its involvement in terrorism,” while “the State Department has yet to take action.”

Another bill is currently making its way through the House that targets the Iran nuclear deal.

Written by Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan, the bill would prohibit the president from lifting sanctions on Iran until it pays victims of Iranian-instigated or funded terror attacks some $43 billion in compensation already awarded to victims by US courts.

“Not one cent has been paid by Iran toward those damages,” Meehan said.

Meehan’s bill, which has over 100 co-sponsors in the House, would block implementation of the nuclear deal until Tehran pays those damages.

The White House said Wednesday that President Barack Obama would veto the bill, arguing that the nuclear deal addresses only nuclear issues. It said the bill would result in the collapse of the international agreement aimed at preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

AP contributed to this report.

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