Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary Image Credit: AP

Washington: The Trump administration is pushing to issue an order that would designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organisation, bringing the weight of US sanctions against the organisation, according to officials familiar with the matter.

The White House directed national security and diplomatic officials to find a way to place sanctions on the group after a White House visit April 9 by President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi of Egypt. In a private meeting without reporters and photographers, Al Sissi urged President Donald Trump to take that step and join Egypt in branding the movement a terrorist organisation.

Such a designation imposes wide-ranging economic and travel sanctions on companies and individuals who interact with the targeted group. The president responded affirmatively to Al Sissi, saying it would make sense. Some of Trump’s advisers have interpreted that as a commitment, officials said.

In a statement, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, acknowledged that the administration was working on designating the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists.

“The president has consulted with his national security team and leaders in the region who share his concern, and this designation is working its way through the internal process,” Sanders said.

John Bolton, the national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, support the idea, officials said. As a matter of policy, such a designation could have rippling consequences, including further stressing relations with Turkey, whose president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is a staunch Brotherhood supporter.

The Trump administration had weighed whether to designate both the Muslim Brotherhood and an arm of Iran’s military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, as terrorist organisations during its chaotic first weeks in 2017. But the ideas lapsed amid objections from career professionals and the fallout from other capricious early steps, like Trump’s ban on visitors from several predominantly Muslim countries.

But this spring, the administration abruptly pushed through the terrorist designation for the Revolutionary Guards. Pompeo, who has the most important voice in the debate besides Trump’s because the secretary of state controls the list of designated terrorist organisations, announced sanctions on the Iranian military arm April 8, the day before Al Sissi visited the White House.

The move against the Iranian military was the first time the United States had interpreted its counterterrorism laws as permitting an entity of a nation-state government to count as terrorists.