U.S. to Dub Iran's Elite Force a Terrorist Group

The Bush administration is reportedly ready to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite military force, a foreign terrorist organization. Iran is already on the U.S. list of terrorist nations. Robin Wright of The Washington Post talks with Renee Montagne.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Published reports say the Bush administration is about to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard, an elite branch of the country's military, a foreign terrorist organization. Iran is already on the U.S. list of terrorist nations. This move would clearly signal that the White House has chosen to adopt an even harder line against Iran's leaders at a time when the administration blames Tehran for pursuing a nuclear program and arming militias in Iraq.

Joining us now is correspondent Robin Wright, whose story in today's Washington Post says U.S. officials have already decided to take this step. Good morning.

Ms. ROBIN WRIGHT (Reporter, The Washington Post): Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Can we just - tell me briefly, why take this step now?

Ms. WRIGHT: There's been growing frustration within the administration over Iran's growing engagement in Iraq and in Afghanistan, in arming the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Shiite militias in Iraq. There's also growing frustration, frankly, with the United Nations because the Security Council members have been unwilling to engage in a robust third resolution against Iran. Two earlier resolutions passed in December and March have failed to get Iran to comply or to suspend its nuclear enrichment program. And there's a feeling that because of China's growing engagement with Iran economically that the Security Council is unlikely to win support necessary for something that would be much tougher. So the United States has decided to move unilaterally.

MONTAGNE: Now, given that Tehran is already under international sanctions and it's on the State Department's list of terrorist-sponsoring nations, what would be the practical effect of declaring Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization now?

Ms. WRIGHT: Well, the interesting thing about the Revolutionary Guards is that it has evolved from an elite military force into one of the major parts of Iran's mainstream economy. It's engaged with pharmaceutical companies, pipeline activities. Its construction company built the new international airport in Tehran. And the goal of this is to put a crimp in its economic operations not only by our sanctioning the Revolutionary Guard businesses but any foreign business that does business with the Revolutionary Guard's companies. And this would give it a wider latitude. And the difference is, in the last two U.N. resolutions, there were 28 individuals who were personally sanctioned because of their ties to the nuclear program, and that included the commanders of the Revolutionary Guard's navy, air force, ground forces, and special forces. This will target the entire Revolutionary Guard as a business entity as well as a military unit.

MONTAGNE: Which in theory could really hurt it. Now, does this move, if the administration does in fact announce it, amount to a victory for hardliners over those wanting to engage Iran?

Ms. WRIGHT: Not necessarily. It does respond to growing pressure on the Hill, where the Iran Counter Proliferation Act is gaining momentum in both the House and the Senate. But it also does try to signal that the United States is trying to do things diplomatically. There is a growing or merging body of thought in Washington arguing more hawkish lines, that diplomatic sanctions haven't worked, diplomatic engagement hasn't worked, and that the United States needs to look at a third options. This is a way of coming back and saying, we really do want to see if can punish Iran economically and try to squeeze it, rather than take tougher action.

MONTAGNE: Robin, thanks very much. Robin Wright is a correspondent for The Washington Post.

And this is NPR News.

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