Iran on Sunday blacklisted 15 American companies in retaliation for new sanctions by the Trump administration targeting the Iranian missile program. An Iranian Foreign Ministry said the move was “a reciprocal action by the Islamic Republic of Iran to sanction American companies that have played a role in crimes committed by the Zionist regime [Israel], support terrorism and participate in the suppression of people in the region.” The added “any transactions with these companies and institutions are prohibited, and their assets within the reach of the Islamic Republic of Iran are subject to confiscation.” The Foreign Ministry did not clarify whether Iran will sanction third parties – such as European and Asian companies – that do business with the named American firms.
The statement further condemned new sanctions by the Trump administration against Iranian individuals and entities associated with the country’s controversial missile program – arguing that the new U.S. unilateral sanctions violate international norms and are against the spirit of the nuclear deal Iran signed with the United States and five other world powers in July 2015. The Foreign Ministry statement reiterated that U.S. sanctions will not deter Iran from developing its defense program.
Separately, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission on Sunday that the Islamic Republic will designate the U.S. Army and the Central Intelligence Agency as terrorist entities if Washington blacklisted the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.). “The American Army has actively turned into a great supporter of terrorist groups through its involvement in various regional crises including in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen and also through its extensive support to terrorist organizations that are killing innocent people in the region and supervise the secret and covert operations of America and its intelligence organization,” Alaeddin Boroujerdi said, adding that the Iranian parliament will introduce a bill in its first session after the New Year recess to blacklist the U.S. military and the CIA.
Comment: The tit-for-tat move by the Iranian government to sanction 15 American companies has little, if any, impact on those companies. None of the 15 American firms are known to be operating inside Iran or have assets in the country to be seized. The blacklisted companies are mainly American defense and construction firms that operate in or do business with Israel. American arms manufactures are already barred from doing business with Iran as part of existing unilateral U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Thus, the move by the Rouhani government is more a symbolic measure aimed at placating Iranian hardliners, who have been pressuring the government to give a firm response to the Trump administration’s latest measures to target Iran’s missile program and regional agenda.
A more serious development in the U.S.-Iran relations will be if the Trump administration designates the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization.” The I.R.G.C. is Iran’s elite military force that is in charge of the country’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs. It also advances Iran’s expansionist regional agenda from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria and beyond and dominates Iran’s economic and industrial sectors. A potential blacklisting of the I.R.G.C. will therefore have ramifications not only for Iran’s regional policies but also for its economy and domestic politics. As Boroujerdi's remrarks indicate, the Iranian government is already exploring retaliatory measures.