Washington Tightens Sanctions While Tehran Looks to Proxies for Aid

As senior American officials warn of new sanctions, President Rouhani has dubbed the measures “a crime against humanity” and vowed to seek legal redress — while his peers in Tehran warn they may summon Shi’ite proxy militias to suppress unrest at home.


On March 14, Trump administration officials told a gathering of 850 U.S. and foreign business people that the White House intends to constrict legal trade with Iran further. David Peyman, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Counter Threat Finance and Sanctions, asserted that U.S. sanctions on Iran aimed at “specific and narrow goals” — namely, a halt to Iranian efforts at destabilizing its neighbors and developing nuclear weapons capacity.  Peyman warned companies still working with Iran that “the rules may change and may change quickly.” “Tomorrow, next week or next month you may find yourself conducting business that may be legal today [but] that isn't in the future."

Also in attendance was Brian Hook, the State Department’s special envoy on Iran.“Our sanctions are back in place,” he declared. “There’s more to come.” He also noted that it was difficult for foreign businesses to avoid contact with sanctioned entities such as Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Hook said the between 50 and 70 percent of the Iranian economy is controlled by the IRGC.

Hook’s messageaccompanied Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s initiative to designate the Qods Force a foreign terrorist organization. As the New York Times reported, Pompeo is also spearheading a similar effort targeting Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq, a Shi’ite paramilitary group that recently won 15 seats in Iraq’s parliament, while pressuring the Iraqi government to halt the purchase of natural gas and electricity from Iran.  


On March 17, Iranian President Rouhani announced that his legal department, along with the justice and foreign affairs ministries, would file a lawsuit against the architects of U.S. sanctions on Iran. He described the sanctions as a “crime against humanity,” noting that they were aimed at “overthrowing the Republic’s government and ushering in one more aligned with U.S.policies.… The Americans have only one goal: they want to come back to Iran and rule the nation again.”

Also this week, a leading Iranian cleric delivered an ominous warning in the course of a talk with religious students in Qom. Musa Ghazanfarabadi, head of the Tehran Islamic Revolution Courts, suggested that the Iranian government might import IRGC-trained Shiite militias from across the Middle East to bolster the Islamic Republic against domestic threats. “If internal forces fail to protect the regime,” he said, “then the Houthi rebels, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) known as ‎al-Hashd al-Shaabi, Liwa Fatemiyoun, Liwa Zainebiyoun and other militia groups who are part of the axis of resistance will take over the task and protect the Islamic Revolution in Iran.” Ghazanfarabadi sad. 

This severe warning provoked criticism from the hardline clerics’ opponents. Seyyed Mostafa Tajzadeh, an Iranian reformist and former minister who spent seven years in Evin Prison for supporting the “Green Revolution,” issued a harsh rebuke to Ghazanfarabadi: "What damage did you do to the Islamic Republic so you're asking help from other people to protect it, instead of seeking help from those who built it?" Tajzadeh​ asked.


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