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Iran Sanctions Target Military, Weapons Financing

The sanctions the U.S. announced Thursday against Iran stand out for a couple of reasons.

First, they are tough. Second, they attempt to single out and punish Iran's military — and that's not commonly done.

The sanctions target Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and defense ministry, and three of the country's largest banks. They are designed to make it much more difficult for Iran to develop and finance its missile and nuclear programs.

Narrow Interdiction

Specifically, the U.S. designated nine enterprises that it says are controlled by the Revolutionary Guard Corps and defense ministry, plus five of the corps' top commanders and three civilian leaders of Iran's Aerospace Industry Organization.

The U.S. says the three banks — Bank Melli, Bank Mellat and Bank Saderat, all well-known in Iran — have facilitated the movement of millions of dollars for weapons proliferation.

In addition, sanctions against the Qods Force, an elite group within the Revolutionary Guard Corps, punish activities in support of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and allegedly the Taliban in Afghanistan.

'A Powerful Deterrent'

The sanctions were announced Thursday morning by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"No U.S. citizen or private organization will be allowed to engage in financial transactions with these persons and entities," Rice said. "Any assets that these designees have under U.S. jurisdiction will be immediately frozen.

"These actions will help to protect the international financial system from the illicit activities of the Iranian government," Rice added. "And they will provide a powerful deterrent to every international bank and company that thinks of doing business with the Iranian government."

A Long Time Coming

The Bush administration has been looking to punish the Revolutionary Guard Corps for some time. It has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to impose comprehensive sanctions through the U.N. Security Council. The new sanctions are more narrowly targeted.

Paulson warned those few in the U.S. who might still be doing business with Iran that they should be very careful about which enterprises they choose to be involved with.

"The IRGC is so deeply entrenched in Iran's economy and commercial enterprises, it is increasingly likely that if you are doing business with Iran, you are doing business with the IRGC," he said.

Negotiations Versus Military Force

Imposing the sanctions on Iran now appears to be motivated in part by a debate within the Bush administration about the value of diplomacy in dealing with Iran.

Rice represents one pole of that debate. She advocates negotiating with Iran, through the European Union and with the support of the U.N. Security Council.

Vice President Dick Cheney represents the other pole, which favors the use of military force against Iranian nuclear facilities.

'On a Diplomatic Track'

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Thursday that the new sanctions should not be seen as a step closer to military action.

"This decision today supports the diplomacy, and in no way, shape or form does it anticipate the use of force," Burns said. "Now, the president has never taken that option off the table, and quite rightly so. But we are clearly on a diplomatic track, and this decision reinforces that track."

These are unilateral sanctions, imposed by the U.S. alone. It is not clear how much international backing they will get. Britain has expressed support, but Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that the sanctions will make matters worse.

Russia and China are the principal suppliers of advanced military technology to Iran.

Given its power and influence in the global financial system, the U.S. can punish foreign banks almost anywhere that continue to do business with the Iranian enterprises and banks targeted in the new sanctions.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mike Shuster is an award-winning diplomatic correspondent and roving foreign correspondent for NPR News. He is based at NPR West, in Culver City, CA. When not traveling outside the U.S., Shuster covers issues of nuclear non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and the Pacific Rim.