LONDON: The US has blocked billions of dollars from reaching Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.
The elite force, which spearheads Tehran’s aggressive regional policies, has been the chief target of wide-ranging sanctions from the Trump administration.
It has been blamed for a number of attacks on international shipping in or near the Strait of Hormuz in recent months as tensions have escalated between Iran and both its Arab and Western rivals.
In a briefing on Middle East security, Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran, said the regime and its proxies are weaker today than when Donald Trump took office.
Hook said Iran’s military budget went down 10 percent during the first year of his administration and 28 percent during the second year. That included a 17 percent cut for the IRGC and its foreign wing the Quds Force, he said.
“We are telling Iran that it is not acceptable to provide lethal assistance on a regular basis to terrorist organizations,” Hook said.
Responding to questions about US attempts to halt the release of an Iranian oil tanker from Gibraltar, Hook said as long as Iran was moving illicit oil around the world to fund its terrorist operations it is important to do something about it.
“This regime, unlike most regime’s in the world, uses oil revenue to support terrorism and to fund terrorist organizations and to fund its missile program,” Hook said
Later Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the UN Security Council that Iran had been engaging in "extortion diplomacy." During a meeting on Middle East stability he listed a string of aggressive actions carried out by Tehran and its proxies in recent months, including attacks by Houthi militants against Saudi Arabia.
Iran's actions in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen are also having "devastating humanitarian consequences," Pompeo said.
Pompeo told MSNBC earlier that the US had removed nearly 2.7 million barrels of Iranian oil from global markets as a result of Washington's decision to reimpose sanctions on all purchases of Iran's crude.
He said the move had denied “Iran the wealth to create their terror campaign around the world, and we have managed to keep the oil markets fully supplied.”
The US started ramping up sanctions on Iran after withdrawing last year from an international accord to limit Tehran’s nuclear program.