Trump Marks Persian New Year With Call for 'Rebirth of Liberty in Iran'

By Patrick Goodenough | March 21, 2019 | 4:43 AM EDT

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with senior IRGC officers. (Photo: Iranian Presidency)

( – Amid talk of possible terror blacklisting of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, President Trump greeted Iranians around the world on the Persian new year (Nowruz), on Thursday, while condemning the “dictatorial” regime in Tehran, and saying he joined those praying for “the rebirth of liberty in Iran.”

Iranians, Trump said in a statement, were “sadly” not able to enter fully into the joy of the occasion because of “the heavy burden of the oppression of their country’s ruthless and corrupt regime.”

“We pledge never to turn a deaf ear to the calls of the Iranian people for freedom, and we will never forget their ongoing struggle for human rights,” Trump said.

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said in an online video Iranians have celebrated Nowruz for more than 3,000 years “and will celebrate countless more before submitting to outside diktats, let alone those issued by an increasingly isolated power.”

He said Iran was engaging with an “expanding array of nations who are equally sick and tired of the bullying of the U.S.”

Nowruz comes as the Trump administration is reported to be seriously considering designating the IRGC – and/or its Qods Force, which is responsible for terrorist and military operations abroad – as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).

Asked while flying to the Middle East this week about the possibility of a designation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded cautiously.

“I don’t want to talk about any particular one or the others that you mention, the IRGC or the IRGC Qods Force,” he said. “We’re certainly looking at all of those. Our campaign to convince the Islamic Republic of Iran to change its way continues. We’ve put a lot of pressure to date, but there’s more to follow.”

FTO listing coming around Nowruz would send a powerful signal.

On the day Nowruz was celebrated last year, the U.S. Treasury Department issued guidance on supporting freedom of information for the Iranian people, and then days later designated 10 Iranian individuals and one entity accused of “malicious cyber activity against the United States and our allies.”

‘Material support or resources’

There have long been calls in Congress for the administration to designate the IRGC and/or its Qods Force as an FTO.

The Qods Force has been designated since 2007 under Executive Order 13224, a post-9/11 tool designed to disrupt funding to terrorist, and in 2017 the IRGC in its entirety was designated under that same order.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps troops on parade. (Photo: Office of the Supreme Leader)

But FTO designation would be a more significant step, since it is “unlawful for a person in the United States or subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to knowingly provide ‘material support or resources’ to a designated FTO.”

The IRGC has interests across key industries and sectors in Iran, increasing the risk that transactions could benefit the IRGC or its “agents.” (In the applicable regulations, “agents” could include even entities that act indirectly on behalf of the IRGC.)

When it was previously reported that FTO designation was being mulled in Washington, in 2017, the IRGC responded with threats, warning that the U.S. had better move its military bases in the region beyond the range of Iranian ballistic missiles.


The IRGC was established as the “guardian of the Islamic Revolution” after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. Three years later, an IRGC force deployed to Lebanon oversaw the creation 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.

The U.S. government has viewed Iran as the world’s number one state-sponsor of terrorism going back to the 1980s – it was designated as such in 1984 – and the intelligence community holds the IRGC and IRGC Qods Force responsible for directing its campaign of global violence.

Calls to designate the IRGC and/or Qods Force as an FTO have been controversial, including inside Congress.

When the U.S. Senate in 2007 considered a bipartisan amendment calling for FTO designation for the IRGC, it passed by 76 votes to 22 but among the “no” votes were Democratic Sens. Joe Biden (Dela.), John Kerry (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) did not vote, although in an editorial he opposed the amendment, worrying that the Bush administration would use the language “to justify an attack on Iran.”

Obama also described as “reckless” the “yes” vote from Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) – then his leading challenger in the Democratic primaries for the 2008 presidential election.

Under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, criteria for FTO designation requires a group to be (a) a foreign organization; (b) that “engages in terrorist activity or terrorism, or retains the capacity and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism”; (c) if that activity threats U.S. nationals or U.S. national security.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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