NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States is considering sanctions against the entire Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday, raising pressure on Tehran over its atomic plans.
“We can designate many more (Iranian) entities,” Rice told Reuters in an interview. “There have been some Quds force individuals and entities already designated and we will look at the prospect of doing it to the organization as a whole.”
Such a designation would enable Washington to target the force’s financing. The United States accuses the Quds force of inciting violence in Iraq and of training and equipping insurgents who have attacked U.S. troops. Iran denies this.
The United States hopes to increase diplomatic pressure on Iran to stop uranium enrichment, which can produce nuclear weapons, and targeting the Guard Corps’ unit would be part of that strategy.
“Remember that the problem with the Quds force is that it has a network of activities in support of terrorism but it also, we believe, has a network of activities in support of proliferation,” said Rice.
The Quds force is a special unit of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and considered the most elite unit. There are varying estimates of its strength but it is in charge of Tehran’s support for groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
A month ago, there were plans to label the entire Guards Corps a foreign terrorist group — the first time the United States would place the armed forces of any sovereign government on its list of terrorist organizations.
However, U.S. officials said the thinking was now to focus instead on the Quds force because it was easier to target.
Rice repeated the U.S. stance that all options remain on the table — code for the possibility of U.S. military action against Iran — but she made clear the United States was determined to follow a diplomatic path on Iran for now.
However, she said there must be much more urgency in international efforts to get Iran to abandon its sensitive nuclear work, which the West believes is aimed at building a bomb and Tehran says is for civilian power generation.
“It is extremely important that the diplomatic track shows some life,” she said.
The United States is pushing for a third U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran but faces opposition from China and Russia, among others, who want to give Tehran more time to suspend its uranium enrichment.
“We can’t afford to let the international community and the world lose faith in the diplomatic track. And I do think that we are experiencing some loss of faith and even credibility in the diplomatic track if it starts to grind to a halt,” she said.
Rice, who is in New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly, meets foreign ministers from the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany on Friday, when they will look at what action to take next.
Rice said they were not close to agreeing on a text for a new resolution but would plot strategy on how to proceed.
As the United States struggles to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq has met his Iranian counterpart several times this year in an effort to stabilize Iraq.
Rice said these talks had so far not produced anything and the United States did not plan further discussions with the Iranians any time soon over Iraq.
“I am saying I think we leave that channel open but I don’t see that we are going to pursue it imminently,” Rice said.