(Persia Digest) - The Trump administration is reportedly planning to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation, in an unprecedented step aimed at escalating Washington’s campaign of “maximum pressure”.

The Guardian reports that according to the Wall Street Journal, the administration is preparing to announce the move as early as Monday. It would mark the first time the US has designated a branch of the armed forces of a foreign government as a terrorist group.

The US state department declined to comment on the report on Friday evening.

Experts said it was unclear how much concrete difference the terrorist designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) would make. It is already heavily sanctioned by the US as a terrorist supporter, and Iran is designated a state sponsor of terrorism.

“It is hard to imagine a bigger sanctions stick than that,” said Richard Nephew, a former principal deputy coordinator for sanctions policy at the state department, and the author of The Art of Sanctions.

“Frankly, I still don’t believe that this is consistent with the intent of the underlying law, which was to target non-state actors.”

The move, if carried out, is likely to increase the trepidation on the part of foreign companies when it comes to trading with or investing in Iran.

The IRGC controls a large slice of the Iranian economy (the Trump administration claims up to half), and the US treasury and state department have stressed that the onus is on foreign companies to find out if the partners they deal with in Iran are tied to sanctioned groups.

“This is uncharted territory. We haven’t done this before,” said Ariane Tabatabai, an Iran expert at the Rand Corporation.

“It is a sign the US is prepared to fully escalate ‘maximum pressure’ but what is lacking is a clear endgame. There is a confusion of means and ends. The administration sees the damage inflicted as success. But that’s not how it works.

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“The IRGC has always thrived under pressure,” Tabatabai, the coauthor of a book on Iranian foreign policy, Triple Axis: Iran’s Relations with Russia and China, added.

The Wall Street Journal report said that senior Pentagon officials were apprehensive about the move, fearing it could provoke a backlash against US troops in the region.

Mohammad Ali Shabani, an Iran scholar at Soas University of London, said that if the designation is announced, the Iranian government is likely to respond in kind.

“First and foremost, the Iranian parliament may move to label the US military a terrorist organization,” Shabani said, but he added he thought the Iranian military would avoid being drawn into a direct clash with US forces in the region.

He argued that it marked an attempt by Iran hawks in the administration, like the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the national security adviser, John Bolton, to box in future decision making on Iran.

“The point of all of this is to constrain Trump’s deal-making instinct as much as possible and make it as difficult as possible for the next US president to return to sanity on Iran.”

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