State Dep’t Warns ‘Outlaw Regime in Iran’ After It Sanctions a Leading US Think Tank

By Patrick Goodenough | August 26, 2019 | 4:30am EDT
Foundation for Defense of Democracies CEO Mark Dubowitz presents then-ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley with the FDD's Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Statesmanship Award, in August 2018. (Photo: FDD/Facebook)

( – The Iranian regime, in what’s believed to be an unprecedented move, has designated for sanctions a Washington-based think tank and its chief executive, while lawmakers in Tehran are separately considering a bill to sanction senior U.S. officials “with a long record of animosity towards Iran.”

The foreign ministry announcement targeted the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), and its CEO Mark Dubowitz, accusing them of involvement “in designing, imposing and intensifying the impacts of economic terrorism against Iran.”

In doing so, it said, they “have been seriously and actively trying to harm the Iranian people’s security and vital interests through measures such as fabricating and spreading lies, encouraging, providing consultations, lobbying, and launching a smear campaign.”

“Economic terrorism” is the regime’s phrase for U.S. sanctions, restored after President Trump exited the Iran nuclear deal last year.

The FDD is a highly-regarded research institution with a strong focus on Iran policy but which also works on a range of other issues, including Turkey, China, Russia, North Korea, the United Nations, and terrorism.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the U.S. was taking the regime’s “threats” against Americans seriously.

“The outlaw regime in Iran issued a threat today against FDD, an American think tank, and its CEO,” she said. “The U.S. takes the regime’s threats seriously. We intend to hold Iran responsible for directly or indirectly compromising the safety of any American.”

Iran’s Mehr news agency said the FDD designation was based on a law passed in 2017 entitled “Countering America’s Human Rights Violation and Adventurous and Terrorist Actions.”

The law was drafted in response to Trump’s signing in August of that year of the Countering Adversarial Nations Through Sanctions Act, which targets Iran as well as Russia and North Korea, and was the first U.S. legislation ever to punish the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) specifically for terror-sponsorship.

The Iranian law obliged the foreign affairs, defense and intelligence ministries and the IRGC and its Qods Force to cooperate in a “comprehensive strategic plan” to “counter U.S. threats and subversive activities” against Iran.

Mehr said that, in light of the designation, “taking any actions by the judicial and security apparatuses against the FDD and their Iranian and non-Iranian accomplices will be considered legitimate as their actions are against the Iran’s national security and the interests of Iranian people and government.”

Responding to the regime’s announcement, the FDD said it “considers its inclusion on any list put out by the regime as a badge of honor and looks forward to the day when Americans and others can visit a free and democratic Iran.”

In a separate move, reported by the IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency on Saturday, Iranian lawmakers are considering a bill providing for sanctions, including a travel ban and ban on trade, economic, cultural, or political exchanges, against specific U.S. officials critical of Iran.

Fars named three individuals as specific targets – National Security Adviser John Bolton, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) – and said their family members would also be affected by the envisaged restrictions.

The news agency characterized the initiative as a reaction to President Trump’s executive order last June imposing sanctions against supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his office. Mnuchin subsequently announced sanctions against eight senior IRGC commanders and, five weeks later, against Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

‘Placed on a hit list by a dictatorship’

The FDD announcement by Zarif’s ministry drew sharp reactions in the U.S. and expressions of support for the think tank – not least of all because of the reference in the Mehr report to the fact that the taking of “any actions by the judicial and security apparatuses against the FDD and their Iranian and non-Iranian accomplices will be considered legitimate.”

“In other words, Tehran has put an American think tank on a hit list, just as they once made a target of Salman Rushdie,” tweeted New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, in reference to the British author accused of for “blaspheming” Islam, who has been under an Iranian death sentence fatwa since 1989.

“Predictably lawless and thuggish behavior from the world’s leading state sponsor or terror, but no less terrifying because of it,” he added.

“Never before has a think tank in the free world been publicly placed on a hit list by a dictatorship,” tweeted Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch. “Democracies worldwide must condemn Iran's official threat, or every one of our institutions will become vulnerable to the whims of Ayatollah Khamenei's rogue regime of terror.”

“The outlaws who rule Iran have sunk to issuing threats against Washington think tanks and private American citizens,” tweeted Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) The FDD, its leaders, and its scholars have our country’s full support.”

“Iran’s vicious threats to an American citizen and to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies are further examples of its treachery, its untrustworthiness and its malign intent,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah.) “Those in businesses or governments who look away from this reality make a dangerous error.”


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