U.S. Designates Iran's Revolutionary Guard As A Foreign Terrorist Group
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The United States has blacklisted Iran's elite military branch, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, designating it a terrorist organization. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement yesterday.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MIKE POMPEO: For 40 years, the Islamic republic's Revolutionary Guard Corps has actively engaged in terrorism and created, supported and directed other terrorist groups. The IRGC masquerades as a legitimate military organization, but none of us should be fooled.
GREENE: This new designation freezes out Iran's most powerful military force, limiting its access to the international arena. This also means new sanctions against Iran. We have one of the officials behind this policy with us. Brian Hook is the U.S. representative for Iran and works alongside Secretary Pompeo at the State Department.
Brian Hook, welcome back to the program.
BRIAN HOOK: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So this, as I understand, is the very first time the United States has named an element of a foreign government as a terrorist entity. I mean, this is something previous administrations have considered but not done. What is the evidence you can bring us that the Revolutionary Guard belongs right there, alongside groups like ISIS and al-Qaida?
HOOK: This is an organization that has been part of the Iranian regime. And it uses terrorism as a tool of statecraft. And it's been doing this for 40 years. That's what makes it fundamentally different from any other government. When you look at its history, going back even to 1983, they were behind the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut. They were behind the U.S. Embassy bombing annex and Khobar Towers in 1996. The IRGC is often the organization that's behind the wrongful detentions of U.S. citizens, dual nationals. They also bombed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aries in 1992 and the Jewish center in Buenos Aries in '94.
That's just a fraction of what they've been doing, and so we thought that they met the statutory definition of a foreign terrorist organization.
GREENE: Can I just drill down on one thing you said, I mean, that the Revolutionary Guard can be responsible for holding Americans. Has - haven't U.S. diplomats had to negotiate with the Revolutionary Guard in the past to free Americans? And would that still be possible now if you can face criminal charges for dealing with them?
HOOK: Iran, the regime, since the time it took American diplomats hostage in 1979, has been using human beings as pawns in a political chess game. And so we think that's just an element of its foreign policy that we really can't try to strike deals with. It's something that we - they need to stop doing, and it's not just to the United States that it does it. It also does it to the nations all over the world. And so we...
GREENE: But can you still negotiate with them? Can that still happen in moments when it's necessary?
HOOK: Yes, it can. Doing this designation will not impede our diplomacy in any way. In the past, we've designated the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas - a range of organizations - and that has not impeded our diplomacy.
GREENE: So I want to talk about the implications of this or the possible implications. In response, Iran has now labeled the U.S. Central Command a terrorist organization. And the commander of the Revolutionary Guard Corps warned that he can basically now target the U.S. military the same way that they target groups like ISIS. Are U.S. troops at greater risk now?
HOOK: We don't believe so. Iranian aggression to the United States is a virtual constant feature of the - of Iran's foreign policy. If we apply pressure, they could try to make a display of strength. There's always that risk. But in the past, when we've eased up on pressure, as we did during the Iran nuclear deal, the IRGC took U.S. sailors hostage and humiliated them on camera. What we believe ultimately endangers American troops is an IRGC that operates with impunity and never gets deterred in the region. And we think this decision helps to build deterrents against the Revolutionary Guard's aggression against troops and our partners and allies in the region.
GREENE: I want to ask you about the timing of this. The response from Israel was quick and, I should say, pretty jubilant. I mean, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is fighting for re-election in a very close race. Israelis are going to the polls today. He wrote on Twitter in Hebrew that President Trump was, quote, "answering another of my important requests." Is that what's happening here?
HOOK: The United States makes its national security decisions in the interests of Americans. We don't base it around elections or anything else. There are a number of nations that we think will benefit from designating the Revolutionary Guard. Israel is one of them. But I think many of our Sunni Arab partners in the region support this. We know that so many of our allies around the world are frustrated by the instability and the violence in the Middle East. And if we want to promote peace and stability in the Middle East, that can't be done without weakening the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
GREENE: I mean, we should say Iranians certainly see a connection with the Israeli election. I mean, Iran's foreign minister called this an election eve gift to Netanyahu. Even if the United States makes a decision based on national security, is this timing - is the timing of this announcement helpful to Benjamin Netanyahu?
HOOK: All I can say is that we make our national security decisions. This has been a process that's been in the works for many months. This was the earliest possible date that we could do it, at the conclusion of our interagency process.
GREENE: Brian Hook is a top State Department policy adviser on Iran, speaking to us about the decision to label Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.
Thank you so much for your time.
HOOK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.