The Trump administration is soon to designate Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, officials and media say. Iran has warned of a catastrophe if Washington goes ahead with the move.
Washington is expected to put the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on its list of foreign terrorist groups on Monday, US officials and media have said, with Iran warning that such a move could cause a "quagmire."
If the Trump administration does go ahead with its long-rumored announcement, it will be the first time the US has formally designated a national armed force as a "foreign terrorist organization." The move could complicate US relations with other bodies in the Middle East that have connections with the IRGC, notably in Iraq and Lebanon.
The planned move, which first surfaced in a report by US daily The Washington Post, has been confirmed to Reuters and The Associated Press by US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Iranian officials have already reacted to the reports, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warning of "another US disaster" that he said was due to some US officials acting on behalf of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is highly hostile toward Tehran.
A majority of Iranian lawmakers have also issued a statement carried by the state news agency IRNA saying that Iran would take "reciprocal action" if Washington designated the IRGC as terrorists.
"So the leaders of America, who themselves are the creators and supporters of terrorists in the (Middle East) region, will regret this inappropriate and idiotic action," the statement said.
The US currently designates some 60 groups around the world as foreign terrorist organizations, but none of them is a state-run military like the IRGC.
The designation would mean that sanctions would be imposed on the IRGC, including a freeze on assets that it may have in US jurisdictions. It would also ban Americans from doing business it in any way or giving it material support.
Critics have warned that such a US decision could, however, leave US military and intelligence officials open to similar declarations by unfriendly governments abroad.
They say it could also greatly complicate the work of US military and diplomatic personnel by restricting interaction with authorities, for example in Iraq or Lebanon, who have close ties to the IRGC. In Iraq, this would affect contact with many Shiite militias and political parties, while in Lebanon, the Hezbollah movement, which forms part of the government, is also heavily linked with the IRGC.
US officials are already banned from contact with Hezbollah, which has also been designated a foreign terrorist organization by Washington.
Critics of the move also warn of possible Iranian retaliation against American interests that could target embassies and consulates.
Growing anti-Iran sentiment
Such fears have dissuaded previous US administrations from blacklisting the IRGC. However, the present US government contains a number of Iran hard-liners, with notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton vehemently criticizing what they describe as Iran's "malign activities" in the Middle East.
The IRGC was established after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. It is the country's most powerful security organization and exerts a strong influence over much of the Iranian economy and political system.