Hitting Tehran where it hurts

If the new sanctions imposed on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) by the Bush administration are to have any meaningful, positive effect on Iranian behavior, they have to be seen as a first step toward pressuring Europe and Japan to curtail their financial relationships with the Iranian regime. Already confusion has emerged through leaks to The Washington Post and New York Times about how far the sanctions actually go.

Michael Jacobson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (who previously served as a senior adviser in the Treasury Department’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence) observes that The Post’s Aug. 15 account reported that the IRGC would be hit with sanctions under Executive Order 13224 (E.O. 13224) — issued on Sept. 23, 2001, by President Bush. Almost 500 people and entities are on this list. But according to the Times, the IRGC would be listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), joining approximately 40 other groups on that list. In a paper co-authored with Washington Institute scholar Patrick Clawson, Mr. Jacobson writes that the FTO listing would apply only to accounts at financial institutions but not to other types of property. But the E.O. 13224 designation would mean that “all assets of the designated entity within U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, including not only bank accounts but all other property as well.”

The IRGC has long operated as a kind of Mafia on steroids — with its own intelligence service, army, navy and financial empire in which Iranian officials enrich themselves through shady deals and brute force. So, why has Washington decided to press ahead now against the Revolutionary Guard? In all likelihood it did so to increase pressure on companies overseas to stop trading with and investing in Iran. The United States has attempted to achieve this through the United Nations, but Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran have left the IRGC free to conduct its business activities, and progress on a new resolution has been stalled due to Russian and Chinese willingness to run interference for Tehran. The critical challenge for U.S. policy-makers right now is to find a way to persuade the Europeans and the Japanese to join us in circumventing the Security Council.

“Perhaps these governments, and the companies located in them, will think twice about continuing to conduct business as usual with the IRGC and Iran if they believe the new U.S. designation of the IRGC could entail significant business costs for them also,” says attorney Victor Comras, a retired State Department official whose expertise is tracking and stopping the flow of money to terrorists. Mr. Comras (appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2002 as one of five international monitors overseeing Security Council measures against al Qaeda and the Taliban and repeatedly appointed a senior State Department envoy during the Clinton administration) is sharply critical of current U.N. sanctions against Tehran and the IRGC, which he believes are not nearly tough enough.

And last week Mr. Comras, writing on the Counterterrorism Blog, posed a series of questions that should serve as a guide for monitoring whether the Bush administration’s efforts to hit the IRGC with new sanctions will really punish Iran’s rogue regime, including: “Will the Treasury Department take any new regulatory measures to review the actions of overseas branches of foreign banks and companies doing business with the United States that also do business with the IRGC? Will this give new impetus to those in Congress and state legislatures that are pushing for strengthened measures to encourage U.S. public and private fund divestment in companies doing business with designated terrorist entities?”

Mr. Comras also points out that a number of recent federal court rulings give the United States yet another potential weapon to use against “allies” who look the other way as their companies invest in Iran: The courts have ruled that foreign companies doing business with terrorist organizations may be held liable in U.S. courts by victims of terrorism. The United States has barely begun to use its economic leverage against foreign firms and governments who prop up this rogue mullahcracy.

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