US sanctions Iranian groups for ‘attempted election interference’

The US accuses Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, among other groups, of trying to interfere in upcoming election.

file photo taken on September 22, 2018 members of Iran''s Revolutionary Guards Corps
The United States designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign 'terrorist organisation' in April 2019 [File: AFP]

The United States has sanctioned five Iranian groups that it says attempted to interfere in the upcoming presidential election between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden.

In a statement on Thursday, the US Department of the Treasury said it designated Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the IRGC’s Quds Force, and the Bayan Rasaneh Gostar Institute “for having directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference” in the November 3 election.

It also designated the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union and International Union of Virtual Media “for being owned or controlled by” the IRGC’s Quds Force, the department said.

“The Iranian regime uses false narratives and other misleading content to attempt to influence U.S. elections,” Steven Mnuchin, the US treasury secretary, said in the statement.

“This administration is committed to ensuring the integrity of the US election system and will continue to counter efforts from any foreign actor that threatens our electoral processes.”

The US designated the IRGC as a foreign “terrorist organisation” in April 2019 as part of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy against Tehran.

Separately on Thursday, the US Treasury Department also sanctioned Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, accusing him of “acting for or on behalf” of the IRGC’s Quds Force.

Alleged meddling

The new designations, which freeze the groups’ assets in the US and prohibit US citizens from engaging with them, come after the US’s top intelligence official accused Iran and Russia of attempting to influence public opinion ahead of the election.

“We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran and separately, by Russia,” John Ratcliffe, director of National Intelligence, said during a news conference on Wednesday.

While most of that voter information is public, Ratcliffe said government officials “have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, [and] incite social unrest and damage”.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden and US President Donald Trump will square off on October 22 in their final debate ahead of the November 3 United States presidential election [File: Jim Watson and Saul Loeb/AFP]

Ratcliffe was referring to emails sent on Wednesday and designed to look like they came from the Proud Boys, a far-right white supremacist group, government sources told the Reuters news agency.

A number of voters in Florida and other key US states said they had received the messages.

Iran rejects claims

Iran summoned the Swiss envoy earlier on Thursday to protest against what it called “baseless” US claims.

“Iran’s strong rejection of American officials’ repetitive, baseless and false claims was conveyed to the Swiss ambassador,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told state television. “As we have said before, it makes no difference for Iran who wins the US election.”

Switzerland represents US interests in Iran because Washington and Tehran have no diplomatic ties. Tensions have risen between the two countries since 2018, when Trump exited Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal and stepped up sanctions on Tehran.

As we have said before, it makes no difference for Iran who wins the US election

by Saeed Khatibzadeh, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman

Earlier on Thursday, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that while Iran was a “bad actor”, Russia was the real villain in allegations of meddling in the election.

“Everything that we’ve seen here in the public domain does not justify the statements that we heard yesterday,” Pelosi told reporters before a classified briefing with intelligence officials.

“Russia is the villain here. From what we’ve seen in the public domain, Iran is a bad actor, but in no way equivalent,” Pelosi added later.

Russian also denied the US allegations. “Such accusations appear every day, they are unfounded and not based on anything,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies