The US has stepped up its sanctions on Iran for “supporting terrorists” and pursuing nuclear activities. The new measures target the finances of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and three state-owned banks.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the moves were part of “a comprehensive policy to confront the threatening behaviour of the Iranians”.
The sanctions were backed by Britain, but a top Iranian MP dismissed them as a “strategic mistake”.
The US declared the Revolutionary Guards a “proliferator of weapons of mass destruction”, a reference to ballistic missiles they are allegedly developing, while their elite overseas operations arm, the Quds Force, was singled out as a “supporter of terrorism”.
The US has repeatedly accused Iran of destabilising Iraq and Afghanistan, blaming the Revolutionary Guards for supplying and training insurgents.
Ms Rice said: “Unfortunately the Iranian government continues to spurn our offer of open negotiations, instead threatening peace and security by pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to a nuclear weapon, building dangerous ballistic missiles, supporting Shia militants in Iraq and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, and denying the existence of a fellow member of the United Nations, threatening to wipe Israel off the map.”
Under Executive Order 13382, US authorities will be able to freeze the assets of, and prohibit any US citizen or organisation from doing business with the Revolutionary Guards.
Iran’s ministry of defence, which controls the country’s defence industry, three Iranian banks, and several companies owned by the Guards will also be designated.
“These actions will help to protect the international financial system from the illicit activities of the Iranian government,” Ms Rice said.
Analysts said it was not clear how big an effect the sanctions would have, since the Guards probably had very limited assets in the US. However, they said the move might discourage other countries from dealing with the Iranian institutions.
The Guards’ Quds Force was singled out after being accused by US officials of supplying powerful roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades to Shia militants in Iraq.
Thought to have 15,000 troops, it is responsible for conducting covert missions overseas and for forging relationships with other Shia groups.
“The Quds Force controls the policy for Iraq,” the top US military commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, said earlier this month. “There should be no confusion about that.”
Iranian MP Kazem Jalali, spokesman for parliament’s foreign affairs and security commission, said the US was interfering in internal Iranian affairs.
“This will make the wall of distrust between Iran and the United States higher every day and will close down dialogue,” he told the AFP news agency.
The Revolutionary Guards force was set up shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution to defend the country’s Islamic system, and to provide a counterweight to the regular armed forces.
It has since become the dominant military force in Iran, with past members including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a number of his cabinet ministers.
It is estimated to have 125,000 active members, and boasts its own ground forces, navy and air force, and controls Iran’s strategic weapons.
It also controls the paramilitary Basij Resistance Force and the powerful bonyads, or charitable foundations, which run a considerable part of the Iranian economy.
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