US Hits IRGC Qods Force Network With Sanctions
Friday, 13 Aug 2021 20:58
RmOn Friday, the man US Treasury Department levied sanctions on an international oil smuggling network that supports Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force. It charged that senior Quds Force officials use proceeds from their involvement in Iranian oil exports to help fund Iran’s destabilizing regional activities. The sanctions targeted Mahmood Rashid Amur Al-Habsi, an Omani national, who has entered into partnerships with senior Quds Force officials, as well as Oman-based, Liberian-registered, and Romania-based entities.
These sanctions designations are noteworthy for several reasons. First, they come amid stalled nuclear negotiations in Vienna between Iran and world powers. The Biden administration has been signalling in the media its growing impatience with the prolonged gap between the sixth and seventh rounds of nuclear negotiations over reviving the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). US officials have recently suggested to media outlets that they are prepared to crack down on enforcement of sanctions, which have been lacking given China’s importation of large quantities of Iranian oil in recent months. The inclusion in Friday’s announcement that Al-Habsi facilitated shipments of Iranian oil to foreign customers, including buyers in East Asia, was thus likely a signal of the Biden administration’s readiness to more aggressively enforce US sanctions.
Second, the sanctions designation, while meant to send a message to Tehran, was also narrowly-tailored in the authorities it employed to sanction these individuals and entities. The measures were levied pursuant to Executive Order 13224—which is a counterterrorism authority—and the Quds Force’s subsequent sanctioning in 2007 pursuant to this authority. Even if the United States and Iran manage to find their way back into compliance with the JCPOA, Executive Order 13224 and the Quds Force’s terrorism designation will likely remain on the books.
Third, in today’s announcement, Rostam Ghasemi, a former Iranian oil minister and Quds Force official, made a cameo appearance. The Biden administration reported that Al-Habsi worked in partnership with Ghasemi in this scheme and highlighted that Ghasemi was sanctioned in 2019 pursuant to Executive Order 13224—a Trump era designation. Iran’s new President Ebrahim Raisi has just nominated Ghasemi as roads and urban development minister in his cabinet. This could also be a signal of US readiness to maintain these counterterrorism designations even on incoming members of Raisi’s cabinet. In a separate statement issued on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned “the United States will continue to expose and disrupt those supporting such efforts.”