WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is considering executive actions that would designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the Muslim Brotherhood, an influential movement across the Middle East, as terrorist organizations, people familiar with the discussions said.
A decision to target either of the two groups would mark a significant expansion of U.S. sanctions against Islamist organizations in the Middle East. They would join al Qaeda, Islamic State and dozens of other militant organizations currently on the U.S. terrorism list.
The White House is likely to move more quickly on the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which could be less of a challenge to implement, one person familiar with the discussions said. It was unclear when a decision would be made on either designation.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicerdeclined Wednesday to say whether the White House would take steps against either the Muslim Brotherhood or the IRGC. But, he said: “There’s no one that can question the president’s commitment to fully attacking and addressing the threat that we face by Islamic terrorists.”
The Revolutionary Guard is Iran’s elite military unit and reports directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with a command separate from Iran’s traditional military. It was established following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and over the past decade has also grown to dominate Iran’s economy, with holdings in property, oil and gas and telecommunications. U.S. officials estimate the IRGC controls as much as 50% of Iran’s economy.
Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, have said the group opposes political violence and wants to establish Islamic societies through democratic means. The U.S. designated its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, a terror organization in 1997.
The governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization. Though the group’s reputation took a hit during Mohammed Morsi’s rule of Egypt in 2012, it retains millions of followers, and blacklisting the group could spark unrest.
Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated parties hold seats in the parliaments of Jordan and Tunisia.
A move to designate the Muslim Brotherhood faces opposition from some officials in the U.S. as well as some human-rights organizations, who say declaring the group a terror organization could have wide-ranging impact.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is a large and complex political organization operating in many countries,” said Laura Pitter, senior U.S. national security counsel at Human Rights Watch. “By calling for the entire group to be designated as a terrorist organization, the Trump administration is making an extraordinarily broad policy determination that will harm the participation of Muslim groups in democratic processes.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Muslim Brotherhood “is a terrorist type organization” but the U.S. must consult with allies to understand possible fallout from designating the group.
“Before we do official action, it’s important that we weigh the consequences of what we do. The politics of Egypt, the politics of Jordan are connected to that,” he said.
Either designation likely would come under an executive order signed by then-President George W. Bush in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Trump administration last week imposed new sanctions on more than two dozen Iranian individuals and entities in retaliation for the country’s latest ballistic missile test launch, in January.
Taking the step of designating the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization would give the U.S. further latitude to target the IRGC’s finances and companies, which would affect large sectors of Iran’s economy.
Emanuele Ottolenghi, an expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who supports the move to designate the IRGC, said it would go beyond efforts by the Bush administration to more narrowly target the military group’s illicit trade and funding for terrorism.
“The net effect would be more significant. It would cast the net more widely,” he said.
Reza Pahlavi, the eldest son of Iran’s last monarch and the head of an Iranian opposition movement called the Iran National Council, said Wednesday that he supports targeted sanctions against the Iranian regime, particularly on the Revolutionary Guard.
“We need to weaken the regime as much as possible,” he said. “Seriously curtailing the IRGC…we can do a whole bunch of stuff that hurts the regime without necessarily hurting the people.”
There is broad bipartisan support in Congress for legislation imposing new sanctions on Iran, include separate measures that would require the administration to designate the IRGC and Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist organizations.
The sanctions last week targeted officers and business executives tied the IRGC for their suspected role in aiding the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, and Tehran’s defense industries.
—Carol E. Lee and Byron Tau contributed to this article.