Thank you, Madam President, and thank you, Special Coordinator Mladenov, for your briefing.
Coordinator Mladenov’s briefing was informative and it is appreciated. Mr. El-Ad’s briefing, by contrast, was the sort of distorted and one-sided accounting that is provided all too often at the United Nations when it comes to Israel and the Palestinian issue. It is why I have so often attempted to bring some diversity to our discussions of the challenges facing the Middle East.
Rather than repeating the same tired points in this monthly session, I will take the occasion to focus on a matter of great significance that is taking place today in the Middle East – a matter that has received far less attention than it deserves. I urge my colleagues to listen, as your countries might unknowingly be affected by it.
First, a little background.
In less than two weeks, on October 30, Iran will celebrate “Student Basij Day.”
What does Basij Day celebrate? It is the day during the Iran-Iraq War when a 13-year-old boy strapped a live grenade to his body and leaped under an oncoming Iraqi tank. His name was Hossein Fahmideh. Child soldiers like Hossein were a horrifying feature of the Iran-Iraq War.
Children were sent into battle with a plastic “key to paradise” hung around their necks. They were untrained and considered expendable.
In wars between trained, adult military forces, the numbers of wounded typically outnumber the dead. But the child soldiers of Iran were used as cannon fodder and as a human mine sweeper. The dead far outpaced the wounded.
According to the Iranians themselves, 36,000 school-aged children were killed and just under 3,000 were wounded in the Iran-Iraq War.
So why does this history matter today?
Some in the international community still labor under the misimpression that the Iranian regime might be a responsible international actor, or might abide by the laws of a civilized society. Some think Tehran might care more about a better life for the people of Iran than about the forcible spread of the regime’s power and influence.
Many, many things about the Iranian regime contradict this premise. One of the most glaring is the continued use of children to fight and die in Iranian aggression abroad.
The Tehran government long ago turned Hossein Fahmideh’s death into a propaganda tool to recruit and train children for war. It continues to use this memory of its past barbarism to promote more barbarism.
The use of child soldiers is a moral outrage that every civilized nation rejects, while Iran celebrates it.
The Basij Resistance Force is a paramilitary force operating under Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In addition to cracking down on dissidents and enforcing internal security in Iran, the Basij indoctrinate school children and provide combat training to children as young as 12 years old. These children are then coerced into fighting abroad for the IRGC.
Since at least early 2015, the Iranian regime has used the Basij to recruit and train Iranian children to fight in Syria to support the brutal Assad regime. The Basij also targets Afghan immigrants in Iran, some as young as 14 years old, to fight in Syria.
The United States has followed the money that funds the recruitment, training, and coerced deployment of child soldiers in Iran. Earlier this week, we identified the sources of the Basij’s funding, and took action to cut them off from the global economy and financial system.
Two days ago, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed sanctions on a network of 20 Iranian corporations and financial institutions that provide funding for the Basij Resistance Force.
This network is deeply entrenched in the Iranian economy. It is comprised of multibillion dollar business interests operating in Iran’s automotive, mining, metals, and banking industries. The network uses shell companies to hide the ownership of these interests. Many of the companies do substantial international business across the Middle East and Europe.
The U.S. action targets banks, investment firms, and subsidiary mining and manufacturing companies. It includes the largest tractor manufacturing company in the Middle East and North Africa. It includes Iran’s largest steel producer, which funnels millions of dollars each year to the Basij and its financial network.
Our Treasury Department has done impressive forensic accounting to uncover the hidden and overlapping networks of businesses and financial institutions that fund the Basij Force’s work.
For anyone who cares to look, this is a perfect example of what is fueling the outrage of the Iranian people today. Iran’s economy is increasingly devoted to funding Iranian repression at home and aggression abroad. In this case, Iranian big business and finance are funding the war crime of using child soldiers.
This is crony terrorism.
The Iranian people are rightly disgusted with it and they are taking to the streets to protest. And to add insult to injury, the Basij are using the very money they have stolen from the people to forcibly shut down the protests and arrest the protestors.
The designations announced by the U.S. Treasury Department extend beyond property or interests in the United States or in the possession of U.S. persons. Anyone who engages in transactions with these designated entities could themselves be designated. And any foreign financial institution that knowingly engages in transactions with these entitles could themselves be subject to U.S. sanctions.
The sanctions the United States is leveling against Iran are broad and deep – and for good reason. Any company or individual that does business with this Iranian network is complicit in sending children to die on the battlefields of Syria and elsewhere. The United States will do all we can to reverse the flow of international funds into the coffers of the Iranian regime.
I thank everyone for listening today for their attention to this human rights crisis that is occurring in the heart of the Middle East. I urge my colleagues to join with the United States in helping to protect Iranian children from the government that is supposed to protect them.