TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards said they would not bow to pressure and threatened to "punch" the U.S., in their first response to Washington's plan to list them as a terrorist organization, newspapers reported Saturday.
Local press in the Iranian capital of Tehran quoted Revolutionary Guards leader Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi saying that he could understand Washington's ire toward the group because of their "leverage" against the U.S.
"America will receive a heavier punch from the guards in the future," he was quoted as saying in the conservative daily Kayhan. "We will never remain silent in the face of U.S. pressure and we will use our leverage against them."
There was no elaboration on what Safavi meant by the punch or the organization's "leverage."
Washington has accused the Guards of supporting militias and insurgent groups attacking U.S. forces in Iraq—charges Iran denies.
The fact that the remarks, made on Thursday in the central Iranian city of Isfahan, appeared in local newspapers rather than the official state news outlets suggest the comments are for domestic consumption.
Meanwhile, other Iranian officials continued to speak out against Washington's move to register the group as a terrorist organization, with a government spokesman calling the claims "baseless," on the Web site of the state broadcasting company.
"The claims of the U.S. are baseless and have no takers around the world," he said Saturday, noting that "the U.S. has endangered the world many times under the excuse of fighting against terrorism."
On Tuesday, an unnamed official in the Bush administration said the U.S. planned to list the Guards as terrorist group in order to squeeze Iran.
The move was seen as an effort to pressure businesses the corps is thought to control, from construction to oil sectors. It would be the first time the U.S. would put a foreign government's military agency on the list, which includes the Al Qaeda network and the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
Iranian armed forces spokesman Gen. Ali Reza Afshar hit out precisely against this attempt to declare a state body terrorist in an editorial Saturday in the country's largest circulation newspaper, calling it illegal.
"America's long time hostility against the Guard is clear and understandable, but this move against organization that is part of Iran's armed forces is illegal," he wrote in the daily Hamshahri.
The estimated 200,000-strong Revolutionary Guards is an elite force separate from Iran's regular military and has its own ground, naval and air units.