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The United States will pay people up to $15 million for information that disrupts the finances of an elite Iranian military force, the Trump administration announced Wednesday.
The reward program — unusual in that it targets a foreign state entity — is the latest of many moves the U.S. has taken under President Donald Trump to pressure Iran’s Islamist regime. But it’s likely to further undermine efforts by Europeans and Trump himself to find a diplomatic opening with Tehran.
Brian Hook, the U.S. special envoy for Iran, unveiled the reward program at the State Department. The announcement comes as Tehran has pledged to take more steps this week to reduce its commitment to the Iran nuclear deal, which is barely hanging on after the U.S. pulled out of the deal last year.
The reward program’s goal is to get more information about the financial mechanisms of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which Trump has designated a terrorist group.
Hook insisted that despite greenlighting such punitive moves, Trump still wants to negotiate a diplomatic solution to the standoff with Tehran. Trump “believes very much in bilateral diplomacy,” Hook said.
There is widespread speculation that Trump will try to get a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the United Nations General Assembly later this month. But Iranian officials have rebuffed such overtures from Trump in the past.
"Anything is possible," Trump told reporters on Wednesday.
Examples of what might lead to a U.S. reward under the program include information about the Revolutionary Guard's involvement in oil sales or details about front companies that operate on the group's behalf.
Separately on Wednesday, the Treasury Department unveiled new economic sanctions on Iran. The sanctions target an Iranian petroleum shipping network directed by the Quds Force, a special unit of the Guard.
Earlier this week, the U.S. also imposed sanctions on Iran’s space program, saying the efforts are simply advancing Iran’s ballistic-missile activity.
“There will be more sanctions coming,” Hook said Wednesday.
Iranian officials, meanwhile, have said they will further reduce their commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal by the end of this week, despite efforts by European leaders to keep the deal intact. Under the deal, the country scaled back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
After pulling out of the nuclear deal, Trump reimposed those sanctions on Iran and then piled on numerous additional sanctions, badly hurting the Iranian economy.
In retaliation, Iranian officials have taken a few steps to back away from the 2015 deal and appear more inclined to pull out of the deal altogether.
French officials this week have been talking to Iranian and U.S. officials about coming up with a way to give Iran a line of credit worth billions of dollars to entice Tehran to fully adhere to the agreement and pave the way for more diplomacy.
But that line of credit would require some easing of U.S. sanctions. And Hook sounded dismissive of the idea in general, saying the U.S. has no plans to tamp down its “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran.
“There’s no concrete proposal that has been generated,” he added about the credit line idea. “We have to see a change in Iranian behavior, which we still haven’t seen yet.”