WASHINGTON - The Bush administration plans to institute an unprecedented package of unilateral sanctions against Iran today, including the long-awaited designations of its Revolutionary Guard Corps as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and of the elite Quds Force as a supporter of terrorism, according to senior administration officials.
The package, scheduled to be unveiled jointly by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr., marks the first time the United States has tried to isolate or punish another country's military. It is the broadest set of punitive measures imposed on Tehran since the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy, the officials said.
"This is a very powerful set of measures designed to send a message to Iran that there will be a cost to what they do. We decided on them because we have seen no change in Iranian behavior," said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the measures have not been announced. "Our diplomacy needs to be stronger and more effective."
The move will cap a year of growing US pressure on Tehran, including billions of dollars in arms sales to Persian Gulf allies and Israel, interception of Iranian arms shipments in Iraq and Afghanistan, detention of Iranian agents in Iraq, and pressure on the United Nations and European allies to increase Iran's isolation. The dramatic US steps underscore the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.
"The policies of Iran constitute perhaps the single greatest challenge for American security interests in the Middle East, and possibly around the world, because the combination of Iranian terrorism, Iranian repression at home, and the pursuit of nuclear weapons technology - technologies that could lead to a nuclear weapon - is a very dangerous mix," Rice said yesterday in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The new sanctions will empower the United States to isolate financially a large part of Iran's military and anyone inside or outside Iran who does business with it, US officials said. The measures could affect hundreds of foreign companies by squeezing them to drop Iranian business or risk US sanctions.
The Revolutionary Guard Corps, which numbers at least 125,000, is the most powerful wing of Iran's military. It controls a growing sector of the economy, including construction companies, aspects of the oil industry, pharmaceutical plants, telecommunications, and ordinary commerce. US officials said it also operates the front companies that procure nuclear technology.
The administration will designate the entire Revolutionary Guard under Executive Order 13382, signed by President Bush in June 2005, which allows the United States to freeze the assets of any proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and its supporters. Iran is being designated for its ballistic missile program. The United States will announce a list of Iranians involved in that program - civilians as well as military officials - who will also be designated, US officials said.
Under the same executive order, the administration also intends to designate Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, which controls Iran's defense industries, as well as companies controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, US officials said.
The overall impact, according to US officials, will be to make a pariah of the most critical parts of Iran's military and its defense and commercial industries.
The Quds Force, the foreign operations branch of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, will be designated separately as a supporter of terrorism under Executive Order 13224, which Bush signed two weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to obstruct terrorist funding, US officials said. It authorizes the United States to identify individuals, businesses, charities, and extremist groups engaged in terror.
The Quds Force is estimated to number up to 15,000 and runs Tehran's covert activities throughout the Middle East, including arms, aid, and training for groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. US officials say it has provided the high-tech bombs capable of penetrating armored vehicles and the roadside explosives that are the number one killer of US forces in Iraq.
The US decision to impose unilateral sanctions reflects the administration's deepening frustration over Iran's role in attacks against American troops in Iraq, its aid to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment that could be used for both peaceful energy and to develop a bomb. US efforts to engage Iran in a dialogue have been matched by an escalation in the quantity and quality of Iranian arms provided to Shi'ite militants in Iraq, US officials said.