Obama urges more pressure on Iran's financial system

US teams up with UK, Canada to announce tough new measures targeting Tehran’s financial sector; US president says Washington will continue to look for ways to pressure Tehran over its nuclear program.

By REUTERS, REBECCA ANNA STOIL, JPOST CORRESPON
November 22, 2011 01:05
4 minute read.
US President Barack Obama.

Obama speaking 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Larry Downing )

 
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WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama said on Monday the United States, Britain and Canada were cutting Iran off from its financial systems and encouraged other countries to do the same.

Obama said the United States had identified "the entire Iranian banking sector -- including the Central Bank of Iran -- as a threat to governments or financial institutions that do business with Iranian banks."

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Obama said Washington would continue to look for ways to pressure Tehran over its nuclear program.

"As long as Iran continues down this dangerous path, the United States will continue to find ways, both in concert with our partners and through our own actions to isolate and increase the pressure upon the Iranian regime," he said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner made an official announcement on Monday afternoon detailing the series of new sanctions against Tehran, focusing on Iran’s money-raising activities.

Geithner declared the Central Bank of Iran to be a “primary money laundering concern,” a step short of official sanctions that would require the United States to cut off access to any foreign institution that does business with the bank. That more drastic step would have presented serious problems for US business if states such as China and Russia fail, as they are expected, to cut off ties with Tehran. The new category would simply warn off foreign governments and companies from dealing with Iranian institutions.



Clinton phoned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday evening to brief him on the sanctions the US decided to level against Iran.

According to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu said, “sanctions like these make clear to the Iranians that there will be a high price if they continue with their nuclear program.”

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The United Kingdom started off the trans-Atlantic sanctions announcements earlier Monday when the British government announced their decision to terminate all dealings with the Central Bank of Iran, a decision that covers all Iranian banks, branches and subsidiaries.

“This measure will protect the UK financial sector from being unknowingly used by Iranian banks for proliferation related transactions,” said George Osborne, Britain’s treasury chief.

Iran’s nuclear activities “pose a significant risk to the national interests of the UK and countries across the region.”

The American Jewish Committee was quick to respond to England’s announcement.

“England’s bold initiative to single out the Central Bank of Iran is a much-needed punitive measure to press Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program,” said AJC executive-director David Harris.

“We hope other countries will quickly follow the British lead to enhance the measure’s effectiveness.

Iran’s defiance of the international will must be countered with the strongest possible coordinated efforts to defeat this clear threat to global security,” said Harris.

“Tightening the noose around Iran’s economy is essential to ending Iran’s nuclear program, though ultimately full impact requires the cooperation of China, Russia and other countries that mistakenly continue to do business as usual with Iran.”

Since the November 8 publication of the IAEA’s report on Iran, the US has been pushing for international cooperation in policing Tehran’s nuclear production initiatives. Last week’s meeting of the nuclear watchdog organization’s board of governors yielded a statement calling on Iran to open itself to inspectors, but stopped short of major international steps against Tehran’s march toward nuclear armament.

Iranian representatives were conspicuously absent from a two-day meeting in Vienna held to discuss nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East. In the shadow of the recent report slamming Iran’s nuclear aspirations, the IAEA hosted representatives of a number of Middle Eastern states, including Israel, for a discussion on creating a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the area.

There are already nuclearweapon- free zones in South America, Africa, the south Pacific and parts of Asia.

In addition to the nuclear faceoff and the terror plot targeting the Saudi ambassador to Washington, it looked Monday that there was yet another factor in Washington’s growing tensions with Iran.

The Washington Post revealed Monday that Iran was suspected of having provided former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi with hundreds of artillery shells filled with “highly toxic mustard agent.” These shells, discovered in recent sweeps of Libya by anti-Gaddafi forces, were beyond the purview of the minimal amounts of chemical agents that the US knew that Gaddafi held.

The Washington Post article quoted a senior US official as saying that the US “was pretty sure” that the shells were custom- designed and produced in Iran for Libya.

Washington is also concerned that more than a dozen undercover agents working for the CIA who were caught in both Iran and Lebanon will be or already have been executed, ABC News quoted US officials as saying on Monday.

According to the report, the agents were paid informants, hired by the CIA to spy on Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“Many risks lead to wins, but some result in occasional setbacks,” ABC quoted an official as saying. The arrests occurred over the past six months, he added.

The officials gave credit to Iran and Hezbollah for uncovering the two espionage rings, but say sloppy CIA “tradecraft” was also partly to blame for the discovery of the networks.

“We were lazy and the CIA is now flying blind against Hezbollah,” a former official was quoted as saying.

Herb Keinon and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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