WASHINGTON - The Bush administration will announce a long-debated policy of new sanctions against Iran on Thursday, accusing the elite Quds division of the Revolutionary Guard Corps of supporting terrorism, administration officials said Wednesday night.
The administration also plans to accuse the entire Revolutionary Guard Corps of proliferating weapons of mass destruction, the officials said. While the United States has long labeled Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, the decision to single out the Guard reflects increased frustration in the administration with the slow pace of diplomatic negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program.
Both designations will put into play unilateral sanctions intended to impede the Revolutionary Guard and those who do business with it. This is the first time that the United States has taken such steps against the armed forces of any sovereign government.
The action against the Revolutionary Guard, first reported by The Washington Post, would set in motion a series of automatic sanctions that would make it easier for the United States to block financial accounts and other assets controlled by the Guard. In particular, the action would freeze any assets the Guard has in the United States, although it is unlikely that the Guard maintains much in the way of assets in American banks or other institutions.
The decision will be announced jointly on Thursday by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the administration officials said. "This is going to be a broad and wide-ranging effort," a senior administration official said. "We will be freezing assets, and there will be ripple effects of where we can go from there."
The announcement also intensifies the strained relations between the two countries. The administration has accused Revolutionary Guard members of providing weaponry and explosive devices used by Shiite militias against American troops in Iraq - a charge that Tehran has denied.
In August, White House officials said they intended to declare the entire Revolutionary Guard a foreign terrorist organization, but reports of such a move so raised the hackles of America's European allies and some officials of the State and Treasury Departments that the administration put those plans on hold while the internal debate continued. The announcement planned for Thursday reflects a compromise.
In the internal debate over American policy toward Iran, Ms. Rice has been struggling for more than a year to hold together a fragile coalition of world powers that have been trying to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions through what was supposed to be a gradually escalating series of United Nations sanctions. But after two rounds of sanctions, Russia and China have balked at escalation to another round.
Last week Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin, caused consternation in the administration when he visited Tehran and said publicly that there was no need for military strikes. The guard and its military wing are identified as a power base for Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Under his administration, American officials said, the Guard has moved increasingly into commercial operations, earning profits and extending its influence in Iran in areas involving big government contracts, including building airports and other infrastructure, producing oil and providing cellphones.
The immediate legal consequence of designating the Quds unit as a terrorist organization would be to make it unlawful for anyone subject to United States jurisdiction to knowingly provide material support or resources to it, according to the State Department. Any United States financial institution that becomes aware that it possesses, or has control over, funds of a foreign terrorist organization would have to turn them over to the Treasury Department.
Because Iran has done little business with the United States in more than two decades, the larger point of the designation would be to heighten the political and psychological pressure on Iran, administration officials said, by using the designation to persuade foreign governments and financial institutions to cut ties with Iranian businesses and individuals.
© 2007 The New York Times