- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Trump administration announced Wednesday the U.S. government will pay up to $15 million in reward money to anyone offering information leading to the disruption of “financial operations” of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its elite Quds Force.

“The United States Government is intensifying our maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told reporters at the State Department, asserting that the new initiative will encourage individuals with knowledge of IRGC involvement in Iranian crude oil smuggling to come forward and tip off American officials.

“There are so many touch points along the sort of the chain that moves from when the oil is loaded and when it reaches its destination — the crews, the captains, the people who re-provision ships, et cetera,” Mr. Hook said. “There are many people who are involved in that, and it’s often the tips that you don’t think are going to lead to something big that often do.”

The Trump administration has attempted over the past year to uphold a global embargo on Iranian crude oil.

The State Department officially designated the IRGC a foreign terrorist organization in April, as part of the administration’s policy of ramping up pressure on Iran’s government since withdrawing from the 2015 international nuclear deal with Tehran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other U.S. officials have said the administration’s goal is to pressure Tehran into a broader deal that addresses the full range of its “malign” activities — including its backing of militant proxy organizations in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

Iran has so far shown little appetite for such negotiations and has set a Thursday deadline for possibly ramping up its nuclear enrichment activities beyond limits that were imposed by the 2015 deal in exchange of international and U.S. sanctions relief at the time.

Mr. Hook said Wednesday that the new rewards initiative would be administered through the State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program, which has a history of paying out more than $150 million to more than 100 people in past cases for information that “either prevented acts of terrorism or brought people to justice.”

While he acknowledged the new initiative marks the first time U.S. officials have offered a reward for information to disrupt a foreign government entity’s financial operations, Mr. Hook asserted the step is necessary “because the IRGC operates more like a terrorist organization than it does a government.”

“The IRGC trains, funds, and equips proxy organizations across the Middle East,” he said. “Iran wants these groups to extend the borders of the regime’s revolution and sow chaos and sectarian violence. We are using every available diplomatic and economic tool to disrupt these operations.”

Wednesday’s announcement came a day after the administration leveled sanctions against Iran’s space agency for the first time, asserting that the agency is developing ballistic missiles in defiance of U.N. mandates under the guise of a civilian program to launch satellites into orbit.

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