'Teheran pulls billions from EU banks'

Iranian papers: Order to withdraw came directly from Ahmadinejad; EU likely to impose new sanctions.

bank melli 224.88 (photo credit: )
bank melli 224.88
(photo credit: )
Iran has withdrawn around $75 billion from European banks to prevent the assets from being blocked under threatened new sanctions over Teheran's disputed nuclear ambitions, Reuters reported Monday, quoting an Iranian weekly. The report in Shahrvand-e Emrouz stated that "about $75 billion of Iran's foreign assets which were under threat of being blocked were wired back to Iran based on Ahmadinejad's order. "Part of Iran's assets in European banks have been converted to gold and shares and another part has been transferred to Asian banks," Mohsen Talaie, Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of economic affairs, was quoted as saying. The UK's Daily Telegraph reported last week that Iranian assets held in Europe were being funneled back to Teheran using financial intermediaries in Dubai. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Monday that Britain will freeze the assets of Iran's largest bank. It was not clear how this may have affected the reported Iranian withdrawal. Brown, speaking at a news conference with US President George W. Bush, said Britain will work to convince Europe to follow suit. The British leader said it would freeze the assets of Iran's Bank Melli, a bank the United States accused last year of providing services to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Brown said he will press fellow leaders attending a European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium, later this week to agree on a tougher package of EU sanctions against Iran, including freezing Bank Melli's assets. The EU imposes its own set of measures against Iran, in addition to UN- backed sanctions, which include a total arms embargo and travel bans against a number of named individuals and organizations. The EU has not yet officially announced any new sanctions. But Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs and security chief Javier Solana - who failed last weekend to win Iran's support for a package of incentives - said EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg were prepared to take formal action. "It is clear they are ready to move further. We will definitely take a formal decision," she said. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner previously has called on the EU to target more companies - particularly in the banking sector - and other individuals who do not now face visa bans under current EU penalties. "Britain will urge Europe, and Europe will agree, to take sanctions against Iran," Brown said. "Action will start today in new phase of sanctions on oil and gas. We will take any necessary action so that Iran is aware of the choice it needs to make," he said. Brown said his government wants to do all it can to maintain a dialogue with Teheran. "But we are also clear that if Iran continues to ignore [UN] resolutions, to ignore our offers of partnership, we have no choice but to intensify sanctions," the prime minister said. "I will repeat that we will take any necessary action so that Iran is aware of the choice it has to make: To start to play its part as a full and respected member of the international community, or face further isolation." Bush told the news conference that Iran's declared ambition for a civilian nuclear power program was "justifiable," and urged Teheran to accept a new package of incentives. "When the Iranians say we have a sovereign right to have one, the answer is 'you bet you have a sovereign right, absolutely,"' Bush said, referring to a civilian nuclear program. "But you don't have the trust of those of us who have watched you carefully when it comes to enriching uranium, because you have declared that you want to destroy democracies in the neighborhood." Bush said Teheran should accept a Russian proposal to enrich uranium on Iran's behalf. An EU diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said Teheran's refusal to accept the package Solana presented left the bloc with no choice but firm action in the run-up to an EU leaders' summit this week in Brussels. The diplomat described Solana's fruitless trip to Teheran as a turning point that accelerated Europe's drive to tighten sanctions. The sanctions would be the strongest yet against Iran. But an analyst said the proposed punishment may do little to sway Teheran. "The Iranians certainly have been expecting it, and likely have been preparing for ways to work around it. Unless the Europeans [are] willing to sign on to a far more dramatic sanctions package, these measures seem likely to fail," said Justin Logan, associate director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington.