London, 16 April – The US’s designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist organisation formally came into effect on Monday, while the White House and Congress are divided on whether to extend the sanctions waivers granted to eight countries still importing Iranian oil.
The Guards (IRGC) formal designation as a “foreign terrorist organization”, which was published in the Federal Register, is the first time that the US has sanctioned another country’s military. It is now a crime for anyone subject to the US jurisdiction to provide material support to the IRGC.
Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the designation last Monday and opened a one-week consultation period with Congress to allow members to raise objections. Few did.
However, this has opened a new debate about whether to extend sanctions waivers on the purchase of Iranian oil for the eight countries given exemptions in November, when the US placed sanctions on Iran’s oil industry after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal.
Officially, this is a separate case from the designation, but unofficially the IRGC controls the vast majority of the Iranian economy, including the oil sector.
The US wanted to bring Iran back to the table for a new deal so they introduced secondary sanctions on foreign companies and governments if they continued to do business with Iran, especially its lucrative energy sector. But they didn’t want to shock the oil markets so they gave waivers to eight countries to allow them to continue importing Iranian oil for six months in exchange for cutting their oil from Iran by 20%.
Now, those who want to keep “maximum pressure” on Iran are urging Trump to ditch the waivers, but the White House has been secretive on this and many fear that they will all be extended. Why? To ensure that the price of oil doesn’t rise as this majorly influences voters for the 2020 election.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Pompeo during a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week: “Let me urge you and urge the department unequivocally not to grant the nuclear waivers and not to grant the oil waivers. I think maximum pressure should mean maximum pressure.”
In a later statement, Cruz wrote: “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee needs to understand why some in the State Department thinks it’s a good idea to keep enriching the Ayatollah with oil billions and to let Iran keep spinning centrifuges in a bunker that they dug into the side of a mountain so they could build nuclear weapons.”