Global Policy Forum

U.S. Sanctions 8 Iran Officials for Crackdown

Mark Landler

September 29, 2010

WASHINGTON - Opening a new front in its pressure campaign against Tehran, the Obama administration on Wednesday put eight Iranian officials on a blacklist for their role in the bloody suppression of anti-government activists after the disputed Iranian election last year.

The United States, citing human-rights abuses for the first time as a basis for sanctions, will freeze foreign assets and deny visas to eight people, among them the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the minister of welfare and social security, and several intelligence officials.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in announcing the steps with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, accused the men of ordering the arbitrary arrests, beating, torture, rape, blackmail and killing of Iranian citizens in the violent crackdown since the June 2009 election.

"The mounting evidence of repression against anyone who questions Iranian government decisions or advocates for transparency, or even attempts to defend political prisoners, is very troubling," Mrs. Clinton said.

These sanctions come on top of tougher United Nations, American and European penalties against Iran for its nuclear program. Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Geithner insisted that those sanctions were starting to bite, pointing to Iran's strained economy and its trouble conducting business internationally. Iran recently signaled an openness to returning to negotiations over its nuclear ambitions.

The latest measures, however, were more symbolic than substantive. The most prominent name on the list - Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of the guard corps - has already been designated by the United States for his involvement in the nuclear program. The other blacklisted officials are not likely to want to travel to the United States any time soon, and none of the eight are believed to have significant assets within American jurisdiction.

What these sanctions reflect is how far the Obama administration has come in its response to the political upheaval in Iran. When angry crowds first took to the streets of Tehran to protest the elections, the administration was reluctant to be critical in public, fearful that the Iranian government would seize on its words to paint the opposition as a tool of the United States.

But after a brutal government crackdown and what Mrs. Clinton described as a mounting cycle of repression - the banning of political parties, the closing of newspapers and the jailing of human-rights advocates - the administration has become more outspoken about rights abuses. Now it has gone so far as to name those it thinks are the chief culprits.

"We've always said that we not only cared about the nuclear program in Iran, we cared about the people of Iran and we cared about their conditions in their country," Mrs. Clinton said.

She acknowledged that the administration has walked a careful line in speaking out about the opposition movement, and defended the long delay by saying that the administration needed an "accumulation of credible evidence" before it could move against individuals.

Iranian human-rights and democracy advocates have long pleaded with the United States to concentrate on rights abuses, expressing frustration that it looked at Iran only through a nuclear lens. Analysts noted that the United States has long criticized human-rights abuses in countries like the Soviet Union, with which it was also engaged in sensitive nuclear negotiations.

"This is a list of exceptionally disreputable figures," said Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former adviser to the administration on Iran. "The guys here are first-class thugs."

The commander of the guard corps, Mohammed Ali Jafari, oversees the Basij militia, which carried out many of the beatings, arrests and killings after the election. Sadeq Mahsouli, the minister of the interior at the time of the vote, oversaw forces that carried out an attack on dormitories at Tehran University on June 15 of last year, in which students were beaten and detained.

Other officials on the list are responsible for Tehran's notorious Evin Prison, where political prisoners are held, and the Kahrizak Detention Center, where many protesters were abused and some killed.

In its latest Iran sanctions, the Obama administration has emphasized individual companies and people over blanket measures against the country. Mr. Geithner said that was proving to be a more effective approach. "We can see every week how hard it is for the Iranian government to evade, get around these things," he said.

Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iran at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he expected the people on the list to scoff at the sanctions and proclaim their lack of interest in visiting the United States.

But he added, "This sends a clear signal to Iranian officialdom that they and their families are turning into international pariahs. What would be far more painful is if European countries and Canada followed suit."


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