Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him speaking during a ceremony on the occasion of "Soldiers Day" in Tehran on April 9, 2019. Picture: HO / KHAMENEI.IR / AFP
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei shows him speaking during a ceremony on the occasion of "Soldiers Day" in Tehran on April 9, 2019. Picture: HO / KHAMENEI.IR / AFP

Dubai — Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the US had made “a vicious move” in designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which he controls, as a foreign terrorist organisation, state TV reported on Tuesday.

US President Donald Trump designated Iran’s Guards a foreign terrorist organisation on Monday,  an unprecedented step that will raise tensions in the Middle East.

“They wish to plot against our Sepah [the Guards] … it is in the frontline of confronting enemies of our [1979 Islamic] revolution and has always defended the country … America has failed to block our advancements,” Khamenei said, addressing a group of Guards.

“In spite of all the pressure in the past 40 years, Americans have failed to do a damn thing and their vicious move will bear no fruit.”

Iran President Hassan Rouhani also defended the corps as protectors of Iran, saying in a televised speech that the US holds a grudge against the Guards who have sacrificed their lives to protect “our people, our revolution”.

Comprising an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units, the Guards also command the Basij, a religious volunteer paramilitary, and control Iran’s missile programmes. Its overseas Quds Force has fought Iran’s proxy wars in the region.

The US has already blacklisted dozens of entities and people for affiliations with the Guards, but not the organisation as a whole.

Trump’s move comes after relations between Tehran and Washington took a turn for the worse in May 2018, when Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, and reimposed sanctions.

“This mistake will unite Iranians and the Guards will grow more popular in Iran and in the region … America has used terrorists as a tool in the region while the Guards have fought against them from Iraq to Syria,” Rouhani said.

Tehran retaliated against Washington’s decision by naming the US Central Command as a terrorist organisation and the US government as a sponsor of terror.

The Iranian Armed Forces’s general staff, the country’s most senior military body, which also oversees the Revolutionary Guards, said in a statement it will use all its means to fight against the US Central Command, and a Guards commander on Tuesday warned the US Navy to keep its distance.

“Mr Trump, tell your warships not to pass near the Revolutionary Guards boats,” ISNA news agency reported a tweet from Mohsen Rezaei as saying.

Iran’s arch rival Saudi Arabia welcomed the US action against the Guards, while France called for avoiding any escalation of tensions in the Middle East.

Revolutionary Guards commanders have repeatedly said that US bases in the Middle East and US aircraft carriers in the Gulf are within range of Iranian missiles.

Tehran has also threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf if the US tries to strangle Iran’s economy by halting its oil exports.

Nuclear deal

In a show of support, Iranian legislators wore Guards’ uniforms to parliament on Tuesday, chanting “Death to America” as Iran marked the annual National Day of the Revolutionary Guards, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

“America’s decision to label the Guards as a terrorist group was the peak of stupidity and ignorance of the American leadership,” Fars quoted parliament speaker Ali Larijani as saying.

Iran has so far continued to comply with the nuclear deal, but Tehran’s clerical rulers have threatened to withdraw from it and to resume the suspended nuclear work if other signatories of the pact fail to protect Irans interests.

“I am telling you [US leaders], if you pressure us, we will mass-produce IR8 advanced centrifuges,” Rouhani said in the speech marking Iran’s National Nuclear Day.

Under the nuclear deal, sanctions imposed by the US, EU and UN were lifted in return for Iran agreeing to long-term curbs on a nuclear programme the West suspected was geared to developing an atom bomb.

The Trump administration says the nuclear deal did not do enough to curb Iranian meddling in regional affairs or restrict its ballistic missile programme.

“Since last year, we have acquired kinds of missiles that you cannot even imagine,” Rouhani said, referring to Iran’s determination to continue expanding its missile programme despite mounting US pressure to curb it.

Co-signatories Britain, France and Germany are trying to salvage the deal and in January set up a mechanism to allow trade with Tehran and circumvent US sanctions.

Reuters