The administration of outgoing United States President Donald Trump on Tuesday kept up its maximum pressure campaign of sanctions designed to squeeze Iran by blacklisting an Iranian official as well as a major Iranian university and another individual.
Among those sanctioned is Hasan Irlu, described by the Trump administration as an official in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force. The US State Department said in a statement that Irlu was “recently sent” to Sanaa “as the Iranian regime’s envoy to Houthi rebels”.
“In so doing, Iran is the only nation to officially recognize, and appoint formal so-called representation to, the Houthis,” said the State Department.
Houthi fighters have been trying to oust Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi, who came to power in 2011 after an Arab Spring uprising forced Yemen’s longtime authoritarian leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to step down.
The war began in 2014 when Houthis captured large portions of Yemen, including the capital Saana, and overthrew Hadi.
The conflict intensified after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates joined the fray as part of a US-supported coalition to restore Hadi’s government – which is internationally recognised – to power.
The war continues to drag on and has caused a “humanitarian catastrophe” with more than 27,000 Yemenis fleeing the country and 3.6 million people internally displaced, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“The appointment of an IRGC-QF official as an envoy to the Houthi rebels in Yemen demonstrates the Iranian regime’s indifference to resolving the conflict, which has led to the widespread suffering of millions of Yemenis,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement posted on the Treasury’s website.
Sanctions were also imposed against Al-Mustafa International University, which the US Treasury and State Departments accused of enabling Quds Force intelligence operations.
Tuesday’s action also included Yusuf Ali Muraj, a Pakistani man living in Iran “who has been involved in the IRGC-QF’s efforts to coordinate, plan and execute operations in the Middle East and United States,” according to the Treasury.
“The IRGC-QF is the Iranian regime’s primary tool to sow chaos and destruction across the Middle East,” said US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement. “The United States will continue to take action against the IRGC-QF to disrupt its facilitation networks and cut off resources that support the terrorist group’s activities.”
Sanctions freeze any US assets of targeted individuals and institutions and generally prohibit Americans from doing business with them.
The US has announced a slew of Iran-related sanctions this year as part of a broader blacklisting campaign launched in 2018 after the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal with world powers.
Tensions between the US and Iran have increased significantly under Trump. President-elect Joe Biden has said he plans to re-enter an agreement with Iran when he takes office in January, but the sanctions and ongoing tensions could hinder those plans.