President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, newly sworn-in Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice have all taken issue in the past with calls to designate the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).
Introduced by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act aims to tighten pressure on Tehran over its nuclear activities.
One of its major provisions requires the secretary of state to determine, within 30 days of enactment, whether the IRGC meets the legal criteria for FTO designation.
If the finding is positive, designation must then follow; if not, the secretary of state should provide a “detailed justification” to the House and Senate foreign and judiciary committees.
“The IRGC is not only involved in Iran’s WMD programs but it is also the key instrument through which the regime has suppressed the pro-democracy movement,” a summary of the bill reads. “Recent reports of IRGC involvement in terrorist operations from Southeast Asia to the Middle East underscores the threat.”
Requiring a determination on whether a group meets FTO criteria – rather than calling outright for designation – is an approach used with success in the past to prod the administration into taking action where it has been seen to be reluctant. Last year a similar legislative initiative relating to Pakistani’s Haqqani Network bore fruit although one targeting Nigeria’s Boko Haram has yet to do so.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Wednesday said the department was aware of the new House legislation relating to the IRGC, “and we continue to be in dialogue with the Congress.”
When the U.S. Senate in 2007 considered a bipartisan amendment calling for FTO designation for the Revolutionary Guard, Sens. Biden (D-Dela.), Kerry (D-Mass.) and Hagel (R-Nebr.) all voted against it.
The measure passed by a 76-22 vote, with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) – who would become Kerry’s predecessor at State – among its supporters.
Sens. Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) were the only two senators who did not vote. Obama made his opposition clear, though, saying in a Union Leader editorial that the Bush administration may use the language in the amendment “to justify an attack on Iran” and calling Clinton’s vote in favor “reckless.”
Rice, who advised Obama on foreign policy during the Democratic presidential primary battle against Clinton, slammed her for supporting the IRGC terror designation amendment as well as her vote in favor of the Iraq war resolution in late 2002.
“Those are critical foreign policy judgments,” Rice told reporters in early 2008, citing both votes. “They are judgments that any candidate should be held accountable for. And obviously we look forward to Senator Clinton’s explanation of how and why she got those critical judgments wrong.”
Hagel’s opposition to the 2007 amendment was raised during his recent, contentious confirmation hearings. (He and Sen. Richard Lugar were the only Republican “no” votes.)
Explaining his position, Hagel said the main argument against the designation call was that “we have never made any part of a legitimate, independent government, designated them or made them part of a terrorist organization.”
That comment sparked fresh controversy, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) questioning his use of the word “legitimate.” Hagel then backtracked, saying, “It is recognized by the United Nations, most of our allies have embassies there – that’s what I should have said.”
‘Guardian of the revolution’
The IRGC was set up as the “guardian of the Islamic Revolution” after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. Three years later, a 1,500-strong IGRC force was sent to Lebanon, where it oversaw the establishment of Hezbollah, the Shi’ite terrorist group which the following year was the principal suspect in deadly bombings of the U.S Embassy and U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut.
Its tentacles run through the Iranian establishment. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a former IRGC officer, and more than half of his first-term cabinet in 2005 were men with backgrounds in the IRGC or affiliated units, according to exiled opposition groups.
Ahmadinejad’s second-term cabinet included IRGC alumni in the defense, intelligence, interior, communication and oil portfolios. Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi, a former commander of the IRGC’s foreign operations division Qods Force, is wanted by Argentina in connection with the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, along with several other senior Iranians, including a former IRGC commander, Mohsen Rezai.
Over the past decade and more, annual State Department reports on global terrorism have consistently placed Iran at the top of the list of terror-sponsoring states. Law enforcement officials and researchers attribute much of that activity to the IRGC and its Qods Force.
Among other activities, the State and Defense Departments accused the IRGC of supplying lethal assistance, including armor-piercing explosives, to militants fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.
The Bush administration in 2007 imposed sanctions on the IRGC for support of terrorists, including the Taliban, and for proliferation activities, a move renewed by the Obama administration in 2011.
Also in 2011, the U.S. accused the IRGC-Qods Force of being behind a plot to carry out terror attacks on American soil, including the assassination of the Saudi ambassador in a Washington restaurant bombing that could have killed many Americans in addition to the target.