US designates elite Iranian force as terrorist organisation
The United States has designated Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organisation, as Donald Trump's administration continues to heap economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran.
Tehran took retaliatory action by naming the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) as a terrorist organisation and the US government as a sponsor of terror.
"This unwise and illegal measure is a major threat to regional and international stability and peace ... Iran labels the American regime as a supporter of terrorism," Iran's Supreme National Security Council said in a statement, which was cited by Reuters news agency on Monday.
The decision marks the first time Washington has formally labelled another country's military a terrorist group, the US president's office said in a statement.
"The Iranian regime is the leading state sponsor of terror. It exports dangerous missiles, fuels conflicts across the Middle East, and supports terrorist proxies," Trump said in the statement.
In a televised address confirming the decision, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was "ample justification" to designate the IRGC a terrorist group, pointing to the force's support for armed groups across the region.
"With this designation, the Trump administration is simply recognising a basic reality," Pompeo said.
The move comes amid ongoing US pressure on Tehran, after Trump pulled Washington out of an international nuclear agreement with the Iranian government in 2018.
Trump also reimposed economic sanctions on several key Iranian industries last autumn.
Critics have warned that designating the IRGC a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) could open US military and intelligence officials to similar actions by unfriendly governments, Reuters reported.
The US has already blacklisted dozens of entities and people for affiliations with the IRGC, but not the organisation as a whole, the news agency said.
However, US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said the designation aims to apply "maximum economic pressure" on the IRGC and by extension, the Iranian government.
"The Middle East cannot be more stable and peaceful without weakening the IRGC; it is just simply not possible," Hook said in a press briefing on Monday.
The IRGC is an elite branch of the Iranian military that is believed to count roughly 125,000 members.
Iran, Israel react
On Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the move marks "another misguided election-eve gift to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu", referencing Israel's elections that are due to take place on Tuesday.
"Another dangerous US misadventure in the region," he added.
Israel, on the other hand, praised the US decision to designate the IRGC as a terrorist group.
Ron Dermer, the country's ambassador to the US, thanked Trump "for confronting the biggest enemy of America and Israel" while Israel's UN ambassador, Danny Danon, said the IRGC "is the main exporter of Iran's regional terrorism".
On Sunday, Zarif tweeted that pro-Israel forces in the US - which he called #NetanyahuFirsters, a reference to the Israeli prime minister - have pressured Washington to designate the IRGC a terrorist group.
Those forces "seek to drag US into a quagmire on his behalf", Zarif said on Twitter.
"@realDonaldTrump should know better than to be conned into another US disaster."
It is illegal for any person in the US, or any individual subject to US jurisdiction, to provide "material support" to a group that figures on the country's foreign terrorist organisation list.
Representatives and members of any groups on the list are also inadmissible to the US.
Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS) group, the Palestinian faction Hamas, and the Lebanese group Hezbollah are also on the list.