A top Trump White House official ripped Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a “terrorist enabler” on Thursday and warned businesses against engaging with the freshly designated organization.
The Treasury Department designated the IRGC for terrorism last Friday, citing its support for the Quds Force, the IRGC’s overseas arm. The IRGC, which touts military, economic, political, and nuclear power, has a pervasive presence in Iran’s economy. Trump’s national security adviser strongly urged companies not to do business with IRGC-controlled entities.
“Don’t do business with the IRGC. Don’t enrich the IRGC. Don’t enable their murderous campaign,” H.R. McMaster said during an event hosted by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “We cannot afford to do business with the IRGC, because all of us, the world, will pay for it later.”
McMaster’s warning came as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made assurances that President Trump is not seeking to disrupt ongoing business between Europe and Iran. “The president’s been pretty clear that it’s not his intent to interfere with business deals that the Europeans may have under way with Iran,” Tillerson told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
Trump announced last week that the administration would begin implementing a new Iran strategy, a key part of which will involve countering the IRGC.
“It is hard to find a conflict or a suffering people in the Middle East that the IRGC’s tentacles do not touch,” read a White House fact sheet circulated last week. “The IRGC has tried to gain control over large portions of Iran’s economy and choke off competition.”
CIA director Mike Pompeo, who spoke shortly before McMaster on Thursday, underscored how difficult it is, even for the CIA, to determine which entities are controlled by the IRGC.
“The intelligence community struggles mightily to figure out which companies are controlled by the IRGC or the Quds Force,” he said. “It is a difficult, complex intelligence undertaking.”
Pompeo described the sourcing for these companies as “intentionally opaque,” but noted that “as much as 20 percent” of Iran’s economy is controlled by the IRGC.
Americans are barred from doing business with the IRGC. Foreign companies risk secondary sanctions when they do business with IRGC-linked companies.
McMaster advised businesses to perform due diligence if they choose to engage with Iranian companies.
“It’s in everyone’s interest to really work hard on business intelligence, to understand, who are the beneficial owners of these companies, who we’re opening our checkbooks with and doing business with in Iran,” he said.
“Imagine that you’re a businessperson deciding whether it was appropriate to take that risk or not, whether the return was there for your company,” Pompeo said. “I think we can make it even more difficult.”
The officials’ warnings fit into a broader effort to deny the IRGC revenue to fund its malign activities, said Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran analyst at FDD.
“There is a nexus between IRGC owned, controlled, or affiliated front companies that masquerade as Iranian private enterprise, and those engaging in the sorts of destabilizing activities the U.S. has committed to challenging,” he told TWS.
In the wake of the administration’s IRGC designation, lawmakers have also stepped up efforts to block a deal between Boeing and Iran Air for 80 commercial jets. Iran Air has been sanctioned for providing support to the IRGC.
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