US carves out exceptions for foreigners dealing with Revolutionary Guards

Updated April 22, 2019

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The IRGC is a powerful faction in Iran that controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence forces. — AP/File
The IRGC is a powerful faction in Iran that controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence forces. — AP/File

WASHINGTON: The United States has largely carved out exceptions so that foreign governments, firms and NGOs do not automatically face US sanctions for dealing with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards after the group’s designation by Washington as a foreign terrorist group, according to three current and three former US officials.

The exemptions, granted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and described by a State Department spokesman in response to questions, mean officials from countries such as Iraq who may have dealings with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, would not necessarily be denied US visas. The IRGC is a powerful faction in Iran that controls a business empire as well as elite armed and intelligence forces.

The exceptions to US sanctions would also permit foreign executives who do business in Iran, where the IRGC is a major economic force, as well as humanitarian groups working in regions such as northern Syria, Iraq and Yemen, to do so without fear they will automatically trigger US laws on dealing with a foreign terrorist group.

However, the US government also created an exception to the carve-out, retaining the right to sanction any individual in a foreign government, company or NGO who themselves provides “material support” to a US-designated foreign terrorist organisation (FTO).

The move is the latest in which the administration of US President Donald Trump has staked out a hardline position on Iran, insisting for example that Iran’s oil customers cut their imports of Iranian petroleum to zero, only to grant waivers allowing them keep buying it.

Pompeo designated the IRGC as an FTO on April 15, creating a problem for foreigners who deal with it and its companies, and for US diplomats and military officers in Iraq and Syria, whose interlocutors may work with the IRGC.

The move — the first time the United States had formally labelled part of another sovereign government as a terrorist group — created confusion among US officials who initially had no guidance on how to proceed and on whether they were still allowed to deal with such interlocutors, three US officials said. American officials have long said they fear the designation could endanger US forces in places such as Syria or Iraq, where they may operate in close proximity to IRGC-allied groups.

The State Department’s Near Eastern and South and Central Asian bureaus, wrote a rare joint memo to Pompeo before the designation expressing concerns about its potential impact, but were overruled, two US officials said.

The action was also taken over the objections of the Defence and Homeland Security Departments, a congressional aide said.

“Simply engaging in conversations with IRGC officials generally does not constitute terrorist activity,” the State Department spokesman said when asked what repercussions US-allied countries could face if they had contact with the IRGC.

“Our ultimate goal is to get other states and non-state entities to stop doing business the IRGC,” the State Department spokesman, who declined to be identified by name, added without specifying the countries or entities targeted.

Published in Dawn, April 22nd, 2019