By Michael Hirsh and Michael Isikoff
The Obama administration has approved an aggressive plan to ratchet up sanctions on Iran in an effort to squeeze that country’s economy, a senior administration official tells NEWSWEEK. The centerpiece of the plan calls for the Treasury Department to target the front companies of the hated Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a force that is notorious for harassing and killing pro-democracy protesters. “It’s important for Obama that the United States do exactly what it says it’s going to do,” says the senior official. “We said at the end of the year we would turn to sanctions” if diplomacy to put an end to Iran’s nuclear program didn’t produce results. That time has now come, the official says, adding, “Nobody is going to say to the United States, ‘You’re just like the Bush administration.’ We tried the engagement route.”
The key figure in the administration’s effort is Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence. Levey noted in an interview that the IRGC’s business interests have been steadily taking over the country’s economy. (Most recently, the IRGC bought up a controlling interest in the Telecommunication Company of Iran—an $8 billion deal that potentially enables it to tighten its grip over the country’s telephone and Internet systems.) “The IRGC is taking over larger swatches of the Iranian economy, pushing out other businesses and getting preferential treatment in terms of no-bid contracts—thereby being potentially resented by the rest of the population in Iran,” Levey told NEWSWEEK.
The administration’s plan calls for Levey’s office to publicly identify dozens” of IRGC front companies and then pressure suppliers and trading partners to cut off ties—or risk being sanctioned by the U.S. government, says the senior administration official. “There will be a big effort by Stuart to work with like-minded countries to target IRGC front companies,” the official says. “We know which ones [the IRGC] are affiliated with and we know which ones they control.” Levey says he wants to make foreign firms understand that “if they’re dealing with Iran, it’s nearly impossible to protect themselves from being entangled in that country’s illicit conduct.”
The administration’s efforts—and Levey’s key role as “Obama’s enforcer” are detailed in a story in this week’s NEWSWEEK. Here’s the full story . . .