WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday designated Iran´s elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organization, ramping up already far-reaching efforts to undermine the clerical government in Tehran - which swiftly retaliated by calling U.S. troops terrorists.
Trump said in a statement on Monday that the designation "recognises the reality that Iran is not only a state sponsor of terrorism, but that the IRGC actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft".
"This action sends a clear message to Tehran that its support for terrorism has serious consequences", Mr. Trump said in a White House statement.
Pompeo and Hook said that 603 troops killed in Iraq since the United States invaded in 2003 - or 17 percent of the total USA death toll - could be attributed to Iran. The move would be the first such designation by any US administration of an entire foreign government entity.
The US has already blacklisted dozens of entities and people for affiliations with the IRGC, but not the organisation as a whole.
The Trump administration has adopted a hardball stand towards terrorism affecting the United States and its close allies, including taking a tough stand towards Pakistan despite Washington needing Islamabad help in Afghanistan. While the accord does not specifically ban those tests, USA officials have said they violate the spirit of the deal.
The announcement comes shortly before the first anniversary of Trump's decision to pull out of a 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran and to reimpose sanctions that had crippled Iran's economy.
In response to the USA move, Iran's Supreme National Security Council declared the U.S. a "state sponsor of terrorism" and U.S. forces in the region "terrorist groups", state media reported. "Once again you are keeping the world safe from Iran aggression and terrorism".
Trump's decision comes a day before a hotly contentious election in Israel, perhaps the most hard yet for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces charges of corruption and bribery that he has dismissed as politically motivated.
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By designating the IRGC as a terrorist force, Mr Trump wants to "send a clear message" not only to the country but also to those still having an economic relationship with Iran, despite the ban issued by the U.S. during the summer of 2018.
The designation imposes sanctions that include freezes on assets the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps may have in United States jurisdictions and a ban on Americans doing business with it.
Military officials cautioned the designation could incite violence against United States forces in the Middle East without severely impacting Iran's economy. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani has tried unsuccessfully to further restrict the group's expansive powers at home.
Over the decades, the IRGC has amassed strong political and economic influence inside Iran, while its elite Quds Force, named for the Arabic word for Jerusalem, supports Iranian allies, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanon's Hizballah movement. Tehran denies the charges.
The move was a direct reaction to the Trump administration earlier in the day designating the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) in a similar fashion.
At home, the Guards have amassed sweeping political and economic influence, with Brian Hook, the State Department´s representative on Iran, citing estimates that they control up to half of the Iranian economy.
American military commanders were planning to warn USA troops remaining in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region of the possibility of retaliation.