President Donald Trump has said the US is designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a “foreign terrorist organisation”, in an effort to increase pressure on the country that could have significant diplomatic implications in the Middle East.
It is the first time the US has designated a part of another country as a terrorist organisation.
The designation imposes sanctions that include freezes on assets the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) may have in US jurisdictions and a ban on Americans doing business with it.
Mr Trump said in a statement: “This unprecedented step, led by the Department of State, recognises the reality that Iran is not only a State Sponsor of Terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft.”
The semi-official Fars news agency reported the statement, which followed the US announcement.
The statement from the council came after Iran’s foreign minister said he wants to include the Middle East-based US military forces on his country’s “terrorist groups” list.
The IRGC is a paramilitary organisation formed in the wake of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution to defend its clerically overseen government.
The force answers only to Iran’s supreme leader, operates independently of the regular military and has vast economic interests across the country.
The designation allows the US to deny entry to people found to have provided the Guard with material support or prosecute them for sanctions violations.
That could include European and Asian companies and business people who deal with the Guard’s many affiliates.
It will also complicate diplomacy.
Without exclusions or waivers to the designation, US troops and diplomats could be barred from contact with Iraqi or Lebanese authorities who interact with Guard officials or surrogates.
The Pentagon and US intelligence agencies have raised concerns about the impact of the designation if the move does not allow contact with foreign officials who may have met with or communicated with Guard personnel.
Those concerns have in part dissuaded previous administrations from taking the step, which has been considered for more than a decade.
The department currently designates 60 groups, such as al Qaida and Islamic State and their various affiliates, Hezbollah and numerous militant Palestinian factions, as “foreign terrorist organisations”.
But none of them is a state-run military.