U.S. Sanctions Iranians Thought To Support Terrorism

The United Nations, United States and European Union have imposed new sanctions on Iran. The Treasury Department added more names and companies to its list of Iranian targets on Tuesday. Stuart Levey — under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the U.S. Treasury — talks to Steve Inskeep about the administration's policy on Iran and the effectiveness of the latest sanctions.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Next, we're going to examine the latest round of sanctions on Iran. The United States, the United Nations and the European Union all imposed new sanctions on Iran this summer. In a moment, we'll look at whether those sanctions have had any effect inside the country.

First, we're going to talk with Stuart Levey, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the U.S. Treasury. Just yesterday, the Treasury Department added more names and companies to its list of Iranian targets.

You have targeted a number of people with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, particularly the Quds Force. What is the Revolutionary Guard?

Undersecretary STUART LEVEY (U.S. Treasury Department): The Revolutionary Guard is - it's an organization that reports to the supreme leader of Iran. It's a shadow military, if you will, a parallel military. It has a navy, an air force, a special forces branch.

The Quds Force is the part of the IRGC through which the government of Iran exports its support for terrorism.

INSKEEP: And you have targeted four specific individuals who are part of the Quds Force that you allege have been involved in specific acts. I want to just go through some of these things and understand a little bit more of what you know.

There's a Colonel Hasan´┐ŻMortezavi, who you say provides financial aid and material support to the Taliban. What do you mean by that?

Mr. LEVEY: Well, this is something that's surprising to some people, but Iran actually does, through the Quds Force and the IRGC, provide support to the Taliban. It provides weapons, funding, logistics and training to the Taliban. People are sometimes surprised by that because the Taliban and Iran are not viewed as ideologically in sync, but in fact our intelligence shows...

INSKEEP: One group is Sunni, the other is Shias, and they've been...

Mr. LEVEY: Exactly.

INSKEEP: ...at each other's throats.

Mr. LEVEY: Exactly. Exactly. But nonetheless we have seen over the years Iran providing support to the Taliban.

INSKEEP: And this man Colonel´┐ŻMortezavi is the man who's been coordinating that?

Mr. LEVEY: He's one of them. Now, today's actions with respect to the Quds Force is not the beginning of the process for us. It's - we're quite far along on this. I think we've designated some 34 IRGC entities and individuals, including today's actions.

INSKEEP: I think people understand, at least a little bit, what it means to target a country or target a company for sanctions. What does it mean when you target an individual?

Mr. LEVEY: Formally it has the same effect. So when we list somebody under our sanctions programs, the formal effect is that it freezes all their assets in the United States and forbids all U.S. persons from doing transactions with them.

But the combined effect of when we designate individuals and entities, specifically those involved with the IRGC, it has a broader effect than that. Because one of the things that we're seeing that's, I think, very, very important to the overall success of our Iran strategy is we're seeing the private sector around the world joining with us to amplify the effect of our sanctions.

And that means that when we name individuals or entities on our sanctions list, the private sector around the world is paying very close attention to those that we name and largely cutting off all business with those individuals and entities.

INSKEEP: You've mentioned that the Revolutionary Guard is, you believe, involved in a wide range of conduct that is of concern to you. Do you think that with sanctions like this that you are striking at the heart of the Iranian regime, against the Revolutionary Guard specifically?

Mr. LEVEY: Absolutely. I think, you know, as someone who does sanctions and spent a lot of time on it, it's hard to imagine a better target for sanctions than the Revolutionary Guard. You have a situation in Iran where the Iranian leadership is becoming more and more reliant on the IRGC. It's reliant on it for its political control and power. And it's reliant on it for economic purposes. More and more they're giving sole source contracts to the IRGC for major infrastructure projects.

And at the same time, when we target the IRGC, we are able to point to a wide range of illicit conduct, proliferation, terrorism, repression. That makes both governments and the private sector around the world willing to act with us and amplify what we're doing.

And on top of all that, it's the kind of target that it's virtually impossible for the Iranian government to rally the Iranian people around, because the effect of them getting all these sole source contracts is that the Iranian people are being deprived of economic opportunities. And it's the same organization that put down legitimate dissent after the general election.

INSKEEP: Oh, sole source contracts, you're referring to the fact that the Revolutionary Guard has increasingly gotten involved in the economy and in business inside Iran itself, is what you're saying?

Mr. LEVEY: Exactly.

INSKEEP: One final thing I've got, Mr. Levey. I'm just curious. As you decide who to put on a list and who not to put on a list, are there occasions when you have a dilemma because there might be someone you would like to name for sanctions and target, but there might be other people you'd rather just follow and track and see where their money goes?

Mr. LEVEY: You've just identified what I spend a lot of my time doing. We do exactly what you said, which is we identify people who are supporting terrorist organizations or involved in proliferation or other sanctionable activity.

We then collaborate with our other colleagues around the government to see what makes the most sense. Does it make the most sense to expose it and put them on our list? Or does it make more sense to continue to watch, develop more information, perhaps map out the network more completely?

And it's that kind of decision that we make as a group, frankly, on a day-to-day basis.

INSKEEP: Stuart Levey of the U.S. Treasury Department, thanks very much.

Mr. LEVEY: Thank you, Steve.

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