TEHRAN, (Reuters) – A senior Iranian cleric said on Friday that plans by the United States to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist group invited a fight with the Iranian nation which America could not win. “Americans should know that in this field, as with nuclear energy, they are dealing with the whole nation. And the great nation of Iran will never abandon its revolutionary people,” Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Friday prayers in Tehran. “Americans should know that if they act madly in this regard, they would be entering a swamp they won’t be able to get out of,” the conservative cleric said in a speech that was broadcast live on the radio.
Khatami is a member of the Assembly of Experts, an influential clerical body which has the power to appoint or dismiss Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
U.S. officials said on Wednesday the United States may soon name the Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist group, reflecting frustration over Tehran’s nuclear programme and suspected role in Iraqi violence.
The designation would be the first time the United States has placed the armed forces of any sovereign government on its list of terrorist organisations and would allow Washington to target the Guards’ finances.
A Guards official brushed off the threat, saying the force “will grow in strength despite U.S. efforts to isolate it”.
Iran experts and diplomats said the move was also aimed at pacifying hard-liners within and outside the Bush administration who want military action against Tehran and are frustrated that diplomatic pressure has not worked either on curbing Iran’s nuclear programme or over Iraq.
The United States says Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian programme, but Iran denies this, saying it wants only to generate electricity. Washington also suspects Iran of supplying weapons to insurgents in Iraq.
The Revolutionary Guard Corps is an ideologically driven force which sees itself as a guardian of the Islamic Republic. Its command structure is separate from the regular military. The Guards has a range of business interests, including energy projects awarded to its engineering subsidiary Khatam al-Anbia.
Some analysts say the Guards have grown in influence since the election in 2005 of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former commander. They say ex-officers have been appointed to political posts and more may run in the March parliamentary election.