New York Sun: Bolstered by a new sanctions bill against Iran, Secretary of State Rice will press Arab foreign ministers tomorrow in Cairo to instruct banks in the region to cut ties to any entities contributing to Iran’s nuclear program, support for terror, or pursuit of advanced conventional weapons. The New York Sun
BY ELI LAKE – Staff Reporter of the Sun
WASHINGTON Bolstered by a new sanctions bill against Iran, Secretary of State Rice will press Arab foreign ministers tomorrow in Cairo to instruct banks in the region to cut ties to any entities contributing to Iran’s nuclear program, support for terror, or pursuit of advanced conventional weapons.
If the gambit in Cairo succeeds, it will boost American efforts to punish Iran for its defiance of international resolutions on its nuclear program. In the last 18 months, the Bush administration has quietly succeeded in pressing four large European banks, including London-based HSBC, to stop doing business with Iran.
Indeed, when the Treasury Department announced earlier this month that Iran’s Bank Saderat would be barred from American financial markets, three large Japanese banks also cut ties with the bank. Yesterday, the Iranian press announced that talks between Iran and Japan on a $2 billion deal to develop the Azadegan oil field had collapsed.
The Iran Freedom and Support Act, which the Senate passed Saturday and President Bush is expected to sign this week, threatens to bar from American financial markets all banks and companies that are found to be contributing to the Iranian nuclear project or its development of advanced weapons.
In this respect, the most important attendee at tomorrow’s meeting will be the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan. The banks of Dubai, a kind of Arabian Switzerland, handle the personal and corporate bank accounts of many of the Iranian regime’s leaders. So far, Arab states have been signaling quietly through the Gulf Cooperation Council that they would like to see Iran end its enrichment of uranium.
“A number of Gulf countries have concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and have urged strong action,” the director of research for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Patrick Clawson, said. “So this initiative by the United States allows those countries to claim all they are doing is bending to American pressure, when in fact that they are not so happy about Iran’s nuclear program.”
Mr. Clawson pointed out, however, that Dubai enjoys considerable autonomy within the United Arab Emirates. Of Sheik bin Zayed al-Nahyan, he said, “Don’t forget that the person who is going to be there is from Abu Dhabi, and Abu Dhabi has less interest in the financial affairs of Dubai than in Abu Dhabi.”
On Saturday, Mr. Bush congratulated the House and Senate for passing the Iran-related sanctions. “This legislation will codify U.S. sanctions on Iran while providing my administration with flexibility to tailor those sanctions in appropriate circumstances and impose sanctions upon entities that aid the Iranian regime’s development of nuclear weapons,” he said.
The Islamic Republic News Agency quoted an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hossein, yesterday as saying the sanctions “cannot weaken the will of a great nation, which has achieved its independence and progress by relying on its national and religious values,” according to the Associated Press.
As America threatens Iran’s bankers with sanctions, the Islamic Republic is playing its oil card. The Iranian representative to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries announced his support yesterday for a reduction in oil production to raise the price per barrel back to an “acceptable” level.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran will support any effort by OPEC members to strengthen the oil market and return prices to an acceptable and rational level,” Iran’s OPEC governor, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, said, according to Bloomberg News. Two Iranian allies, Venezuela and Nigeria, agreed on Friday to cut oil production by 170,000 barrels a day, Bloomberg reported.
Tomorrow’s meeting also will focus on reviving negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. To give Prime Minister Olmert the political cover he will need to restart the negotiations, the foreign ministers will discuss how Arab states can persuade Hamas to drop its objections to a Palestinian Arab unity government, return the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and end its rocket attacks on Israel.
Ms. Rice will visit Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Arab territories, and Saudi Arabia this week.