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US Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey held a series of meetings in Jerusalem Sunday focusing on how to get the world's financial institutions to cut business ties with Iran, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The talks took place as negotiations are under way within the framework of the UN Security Council regarding what further sanctions to take against Iran for failing to halt its uranium enrichment program.
The steps that Levey was here to discuss are meant to supplement the process under way in the UN, and are steps the West can begin taking unilaterally, without facing obstacles from Russia and China, whose support is necessary for UN sanctions.
Levey met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Mossad chief Meir Dagan, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin and Miriam Ziv, the Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for strategic affairs.
On Monday he is to meet with Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer.
Levey's meetings came a day before Livni was to go to Europe to take part in the annual Israel-EU Association meeting, where Iran will obviously be high on the agenda of talks she will be holding with numerous European leaders.
The US strategy that Levey is spearheading is to work outside the context of the Security Council to engage the private sector and let it know about the risks of doing business with Teheran. While there has been what diplomatic officials called a "dramatic pullback" by key financial institutions in Europe - some have chosen to pull back partially and some completely - additional efforts are needed.
These steps were discussed in Levey's meetings and are also expected to be on Livni's agenda during her two days of meetings in Brussels.
The feeling among key officials in both Jerusalem and Washington is that the financial measures that have been taken have had an impact on the business elites in Teheran, and that while there may be a long way to go to impact on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, these moves placed the international community "on the right path."
Since last fall, the US has ceased all direct and indirect contact with the Iranian Saderat and Sepah banks, the second and fifth largest banks in Iran, moves that are widely believed to have forced the business sector in Teheran to stand up and take notice.
In light of the US restrictions, key European financial institutions are also reassessing their relationship with Iran. The US is actively engaged in briefing European banks on the risks of doing business with Iran and informing them of how the Iranians are using these links to finance terror organizations and nuclear proliferation.
The Iranians do this by asking that their names be taken off of various transactions and by using front companies. The feeling in Washington is that key European financial institutions do not want to be tied up with these practices and are also fearful of how this will affect their reputation when doing business in the US.
Levey's talks focused primarily on the Iranian issue, not on how to keep funds from reaching Hamas - an issue he has taken up in the past. That this was only a peripheral part of his discussions is an indication of the wait-and-see attitude the US is taking toward the establishment of a new Palestinian unity government.
Olmert's office issued a statement after his meeting with Levey saying that they discussed "economic measures to fight terrorism and the Iranian threat."
According to the statement, Olmert said, "Restricting the financial activities of terrorist organizations and their prominent state supporters is one of the means that the international community can use in order to achieve effective results."
Levey was last here in May.