WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is preparing to declare that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps is a foreign terrorist organization, senior administration officials said yesterday.
If imposed, the declaration would signal a more confrontational turn in the administration's approach to Iran and would be the first time the United States has added the armed forces of any sovereign government to its list of terrorist organizations.
The Revolutionary Guard is thought to be the largest branch of Iran's military. While the United States has long labeled Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, a decision to single out the guard would amount to an aggressive new challenge from a U.S. administration that has recently seemed conflicted over whether to take a harder line against Tehran over its nuclear program and what U.S. officials have called its destabilizing role in Iraq.
According to European diplomats, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has warned of the move in recent conversations with European counterparts, saying that a delay in efforts to win approval from the U.N. Security Council for further economic sanctions on Iran was leaving the administration with little choice but unilateral American action.
A move toward putting the Revolutionary Guard on the foreign terrorist list would serve at least two purposes for Rice: to pacify, for a while, administration hawks who are pushing for possible military action, and to further press America's allies to ratchet up sanctions against Iran in the Security Council.
The State Department and Treasury officials are pushing for a stronger set of Security Council sanctions against members of Iran's government, including an extensive travel ban and further moves to restrict the ability of Iran's financial institutions to do business outside of Iran.
Beyond that, U.S. officials are trying to get European and Asian banks to take additional steps against Iran.
Senior administration officials said current plans called for the declaration to be made this month but cautioned that it could be put off and that the effort could still be set aside if the Security Council moved more quickly to impose broad sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
The officials said the declaration was being pushed by Rice and would not say whether it had been endorsed by the National Security Council or the Pentagon.
President Bush seemed to signal a tougher approach to Iran last week when he called attention to what American officials have said was an active role by the Revolutionary Guard in providing munitions, training and other support to Shiite militants who have been attacking American troops in Iraq. "When we catch you playing a non-constructive role, there will be a price to pay," Bush said of Iran during a news conference Thursday.
Listing would set in motion a series of automatic sanctions that would make it easier for the United States to block financial accounts and other assets controlled by the guard. In particular, the action would freeze any assets the guard has in the United States, although it is unlikely that the guard maintains much in the way of assets in American banks or other institutions.
The immediate legal consequence of the guard's designation as a terrorist organization would be to make it unlawful for anyone subject to U.S. jurisdiction to knowingly provide material support or resources to the guard, according to the State Department.
Because Iran has done little business with the U.S. in more than two decades, the larger point of the designation would be to heighten the political and psychological pressure on Iran, administration officials said.