Tougher on Iran

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

IRAN'S REVOLUTIONARY Guard Corps is a sprawling organization involved in myriad activities, including guarding borders, pumping oil, operating ports, smuggling, manufacturing pharmaceuticals, building Iran's nuclear program -- and supplying the weapons that are killing a growing number of American soldiers in Iraq. According to the Pentagon, one-third of the U.S. troops who died in Iraq last month -- 23 soldiers -- were killed by "explosively formed penetrators," sophisticated bombs supplied by Tehran. Iran also delivers rockets and other weapons to Shiite militias; on Sunday, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that about 50 members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps were operating in the area south of Baghdad, where they are "facilitating training of Shiite extremists."

In effect, the Revolutionary Guard, a radical state within Iran's Islamic state, is waging war against the United States and trying to kill as many American soldiers as possible. In response, the Bush administration is considering categorizing the Guard as a "specially designated global terrorist" organization under a post-Sept. 11 executive order aimed at blocking terrorists' access to their assets. The measure is reportedly part of a package the administration is considering to increase pressure on Iran at a time when it is defying U.N. orders to freeze its nuclear program and is showing no hint of flexibility in talks with the United States and the European Union.

This seems to be the least the United States should be doing, given the soaring number of Iranian-sponsored bomb attacks in Iraq. What's puzzling are the murmurs of disapproval from European diplomats and others who say they favor using diplomacy and economic pressure, rather than military action, to rein in Iran. So far, the diplomacy and sanctions haven't been working: Iran has been unresponsive to extensive European deal-making efforts and hasn't taken up a year-old U.S. offer of across-the-board negotiations in exchange for stopping its uranium enrichment. The sanctions have been too weak to cause the regime serious discomfort, and tougher measures are being blocked in the U.N. Security Council by China and Russia.

Increased economic pressure could be the main byproduct of designating the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. The designation could cause banks and exporters in Europe and Asia that do business with Guard affiliates to pull back. So what's the objection? Some European diplomats say they fear that an escalating confrontation between the United States and Iran will end in war. But sanctions are the alternative to war -- Iran already rejected initiatives aimed at ending its nuclear program by offering economic concessions and other carrots.

Others suggest that the administration's labeling of a principal arm of the Iranian regime as a terrorist group would contradict its recent embrace of bilateral talks with Tehran about Iraq. Yet that contradiction, if it exists, seems puny compared with that of a regime that participates in those discussions while escalating its surrogate war against American troops. If Iran chooses to fight as well as talk, the United States should not shrink from fighting back with all the economic weapons it can muster.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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