Reuters: The U.S. Treasury’s top sanctions official is traveling to major Middle East financial centers this week to build support for its campaign to increase international pressure on Iran and combat terrorist financing. By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Treasury’s top sanctions official is traveling to major Middle East financial centers this week to build support for its campaign to increase international pressure on Iran and combat terrorist financing.
A Treasury spokesman said Stuart Levey, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, will visit Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates this week to talk to government officials and banking executives.
“That trip is part of our overall mission to combat terrorist financing,” said Treasury spokesman John Rankin.
The Treasury has frozen U.S. assets and prohibited American transactions with several Iranian state banks and other companies it accuses of aiding Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons and of providing financial support to terrorist groups. Among banks blacklisted are Bank Melli, Iran’s largest bank, Bank Mellat, Bank Sepah and Bank Saderat.
The sanctions also have had the effect of persuading many international financial institutions to shun transactions with Iranian banks. Levey is seeking to persuade more institutions in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — traditional trade partners with Iran — to do the same.
Rankin declined to comment on a Wall Street Journal report that the Treasury is weighing possible sanctions against Iran’s central bank, Bank Markazi, and is gathering evidence that Markazi is handling transactions on behalf of the blacklisted institutions.
He said, however, that Iran was actively seeking parties willing to help it circumvent U.S. sanctions.
Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt said in a speech earlier this month that Iranian banks, including Markazi, were seeking to conduct international transactions anonymously.
“Iran uses its state-owned banks to facilitate this conduct and those banks engage in a range of deceptive practices,” Kimmitt told an Anti-Defamation League meeting in Palm Beach, Florida.
“For example, some have requested that other financial institutions take their names off transaction documents when processing them globally. This practice, which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to determine the true parties in the transaction, is even used by Bank Markazi, Iran’s Central Bank,” Kimmitt said.
But a senior U.S. Treasury official met with Iranian officials in January to discuss “terror financing” as part of a multinational gathering in Paris held by the Financial Action Task Force, or FATF, a 34-nation group set up to fight money laundering and terrorist financing.
The meeting was a departure from usual policy and one of only a few official contacts between the two countries since Washington severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in 1979.
The FATF has said it was concerned about Iran’s “lack of a comprehensive anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism regime” and urged it to tackle the problem.
Iran denies U.S. accusations it is sponsoring terrorism. Iranian Economy Minister Davoud Danesh-Jafari confirmed representatives from his ministry and Iran’s central bank and economy ministry attended but he played it down as “not at a senior level.”
(Editing by Bill Trott)