Friday, March 16, 2012

Eye on Iran: Global Network Expels as Many as 30 of Iran’s Banks in Move to Isolate Its Economy

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NYT: "A global communication network vital to the banking industry announced on Thursday that it was expelling as many as 30 Iranian financial institutions - including the Central Bank - crippling their ability to conduct international business and further isolating the country from the world economy. The network, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or Swift, took the action to comply with European Union sanctions on Iranian banks, which were enacted in response to Iran's disputed nuclear energy program. It is the first time that Swift, a consortium based in Belgium and subject to European Union laws, has taken such a drastic step, which severs a crucial conduit for Iran to electronically repatriate billions of dollars' worth of earnings from the sale of oil and other exports... Mark D. Wallace, president of United Against Nuclear Iran, a group that advocates sanctions, called Swift's action 'a significant step in the right direction,' adding, 'In order to implement the most robust sanctions in history, Iran should be cut off from the international banking system.'"

AP: "Dozens of Iranian banks were blocked from doing business with much of the world as the West tightens the financial screws on a country it wants to prevent from developing nuclear weapons. The Belgium-based company that facilitates most international bank transfers on Thursday took the unprecedented step of blocking 30 Iranian banks from using its service... Mark Wallace, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who heads a group called United Against Nuclear Iran, wants all Iranian banks to be included in the sanctions. 'We should not be allowing any Iranian banks access to the international markets,' he said. Still, he said, the sanctions are already having 'real bite,' by crimping oil exports, leading the devaluation of Iranian currency, and making it harder for companies and Iranian elites to move money. 'The Iranian banking system is embattled,' he said."

Reuters: "EU diplomats are debating whether to exempt some insurers from a ban on dealing with Iranian oil shipments after Asian oil importers lobbied for exceptions to ensure oil deliveries, government and industry sources said on Friday. Diplomats in the European Union are divided on the issue before EU foreign ministers meet on March 23, said one EU diplomat. 'At the moment, there is no agreement on this.' The wrangling shows the difficulty of achieving consensus on how to isolate Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons programme. Tehran denies Western charges, saying its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes such as power generation. The EU agreed an oil embargo on Jan. 20 to stop members from importing Iranian oil from July. The embargo also specified a ban on EU insurers and reinsurers from indemnifying vessels carrying Iranian crude and fuel anywhere in the world. Europe's insurers cover the majority of the world's global oil tanker fleet, and the ban could prevent Iran's biggest crude buyers in Asia from importing Iranian crude."

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Nuclear Program

"Prominent Iranian politicians and analysts are offering a gloomy assessment of upcoming nuclear talks with the United States and other world powers, insisting that Iran will not agree to any significant cuts to its nuclear program. The elected officials and analysts - many of them close to Iran's hard-line leadership - say it is highly unlikely that Iran would accept even a temporary halt in its production of enriched uranium, a key demand by Western countries during previous negotiations with the Islamic republic. Some said recent economic sanctions and military threats have made Iranian leaders even more determined to continue enriching uranium, despite the worsening toll on Iran's currency and oil industry."

Reuters: "The United States denied on Thursday a Russian media report that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had asked Russia to warn Iran that it was facing its 'last chance' to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program diplomatically. 'The secretary did not send a warning to the Iranians through (Russian) Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov,' State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters when asked about a report on Wednesday in the Moscow daily Kommersant. Asked if Clinton had used the word 'last' in talks with Lavrov on Monday, Nuland replied: 'She didn't use that adjective in her meeting.'"


WSJ: "Action by the European Union is forcing a Brussels-based international financial clearinghouse to end all communication with sanctioned Iranian entities, it said. Swift, or the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, which provides a network to exchange financial messages and transactional data across the world, said Thursday that an EU measure will cause it to disconnect with blacklisted Iranian entities as of Saturday at 12 p.m. eastern time... United Against Nuclear Iran, a powerful U.S. lobby group that launched a campaign in January to get Swift to disconnect Iran from its system, applauded the decision but called for more. 'We continue to call on Swift to discontinue financial services to Iranian financial institutions that are also subject to U.S. sanctions, several of which the EU has not itself designated,' said Mark Wallace, the group's chief, in a statement."

Mail & Guardian: "MTN, Africa's largest mobile network operator, is now locked in around-the-clock talks with Iranian authorities about its 49% telecoms stake in Irancell. The Middle East country has become the target of sanctions by the United States and the European Union for its nuclear ambitions. MTN has been playing a diplomatic tune in terms of its operations in Iran and has given a commitment that it will ride out the fluid political situation. But the company is aware that it risks losing its entire multibillion-dollar investment and infrastructure if the US suddenly decides to move in and bomb oil-rich Iran... Some argue that it would make sense for MTN to walk away and patch up some of its reputational damage, given the campaign by United Against Nuclear Iran that calls on investors and institutions not to do business with MTN unless it ends its partnership with the Iranian regime."

Bloomberg: "India has failed to reduce its purchases of Iranian oil, and if it doesn't do so, President Barack Obama may be forced to impose sanctions on one of Asia's most important nations, Obama administration officials said yesterday. A decision to levy penalties under a new U.S. law restricting payments for Iranian oil could come as early as June 28, according to several U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. 'Given the level of trade, and in particular oil, between Iran and India, targeting an Indian entity that facilitates Iran's access to the international financial market should be top of mind for the U.S. Treasury,' Avi Jorisch, a former Treasury Department official who is now a Washington-based consultant on deterring illicit finance, said in an interview."

Reuters: "Vessels carrying at least 360,000 metric tonnes (396,832 tons) of grain are lined up to unload in Iran, Reuters shipping data showed on Thursday, a sign that Tehran is succeeding in stockpiling food to blunt the impact of tougher Western sanctions. Iran has been shopping for wheat at a frantic pace, ordering a large part of its expected yearly requirement in a little over one month and paying a premium in non-dollar currencies to work around toughened Western sanctions and avoid social unrest. Food shipments are not targeted under western sanctions aimed at Iran's disputed nuclear program, but financial measures have frozen Iranian firms out of much of the global banking system... In an effort to blunt the impact of the sanctions, Iran has even begun buying wheat from its enemy - the United States."

Bloomberg: "China, the biggest buyer of Iranian oil, will take steps to prevent European trade sanctions from disrupting shipments from the Persian Gulf nation, said tanker operator China Shipping Development Co. The government has discussed ways to help shipping companies get insurance once sanctions against Iran take effect July 1, General Manager Yan Zhichong told reporters in Hong Kong today. The ministry of transport and National Development Reform Commission held special meetings on the issue, he said. 'The attitude is clear -- we must make sure that the volume of our shipments will not drop,' Yan said. 'The government regards it as a very important issue.'"

New Age: "The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) will investigate claims that a South African company was involved in a sanctions-busting deal to sell helicopters to Iran. The NCACC told the joint standing committee on defence yesterday they had taken note of reports that a local company, 360 Aviation, was involved in a bid to export Bell helicopters to Iran worth R2bn. Chairperson of the NCACC Jeff Radebe, who is also the Minister of Justice, told MPs yesterday they did not allow the sale of military equipment to Iran because these were prohibited by the UN Security Council."


Indian Express: "The Delhi Police figured out the conspiracy behind the recent attack on an Israeli Embassy car by studying call details of the Bangkok bombers, who reportedly belong to the same Iranian module that planned assaults on Israeli targets in New Delhi, Georgia and Bangkok last month. The Bangkok attack failed as the bombs, stored in a house in a busy locality, detonated accidentally. Police sources said Houshang Afshar Irani, one of the Iranian suspects against whom warrants have been issued by a Delhi court, was in touch with one of the suspects arrested in Bangkok in the botched terror attempt. Analysis of call details show Irani's local contact was Urdu journalist Mohammad Ahmad Kazmi, who was arrested on March 7 for his alleged role in the conspiracy."

Opinion & Analysis

Otto J. Reich & Ezequiel Vázquez Ger in The Miami Herald: "While the United States and NATO keep watch over Iran's activities at its nuclear facilities and the Strait of Hormuz, the Islamic Republic has been outflanking the West with the help of anti-American regimes in Latin America. As a response to Iran's continued efforts to build an atomic bomb, President Obama recently announced new measures freezing Iranian assets in this country. At the same time, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, publicly warned of a possible Iranian attack on U.S. soil. Iranian presence in several countries of the hemisphere has been documented, but many activities remain a mystery. One unconventional mechanism developed by Iran, with the help of Venezuela and Ecuador, is a way to bypass the economic sanctions, as Iran may be using a parallel financial system operated by members of ALBA countries - the Cuba-Venezuela-Bolivia-Ecuador-Nicaragua axis - to elude financial sanctions by the West and engage in money-laundering. According to confidential bank reports, in November 2008 the Central Bank of Ecuador authorized the establishment of 'a mechanism for deposits and payments to facilitate foreign trade' with Iran. In closed sessions, the Central Bank of Ecuador approved a system allowing the confirmation and payment of letters of credit for foreign trade transactions between it, the Export Development Bank of Iran (EDBI) and the International Development Bank in Caracas (BID). By that time, both the EBDI and the BID had been already added by the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Controls (OFAC) to the lists of Specially Designated Nationals as companies that do business with Iran's defense establishment. The documents show that the Central Bank of Ecuador knew about and decided to ignore this fact when signing the agreements with Iran and Venezuela. Mere days after the signing of the agreement, EDBI extended credit facilities to the BCE for $40 million for 'importation of Iranian goods and services to Ecuador.' Parallel to the signing of the agreements, the ALBA countries created a 'Unique System of Regional Compensation' (SUCRE, in its Spanish acronym). The SUCRE is a virtual currency unit adopted by ALBA nations in order to replace the dollar in regional trade. The SUCRE's existence makes it possible for these countries' central banks to offset their accounts directly, without making use of correspondent banks abroad. Consequently, ALBA nations can bypass foreign banks' supervision when they wish to hide certain international transactions. Therefore, the only assessors of the legality of these transactions are the very same suspect central banks that use the SUCRE for their foreign transactions... The fact that Ecuador uses the U.S dollar as its currency means that once the money gets into the country it is automatically injected into the economy. Ecuador's dollarization plus the SUCRE mechanism together represents a scheme that facilitates money-laundering operations in the region."

Jonathan Tobin in Commentary: "One of the important subtexts that are often ignored in the discussion about the nature of the nuclear threat from Iran is the way such weapons would allow Tehran to throw its weight around the Middle East without dropping any bombs. Iran has long employed auxiliary forces around the region to bolster its influence. Though Hezbollah has risen from a sectarian Shia terrorist group to a position where it is in virtual control of much of Lebanon, it is also a loyal follower of Iran. Hamas was deeply dependent on Iranian cash and arms for much of the last decade as it consolidated its control of Gaza. It seems to be willing to break away, but Iran has not lost hope of maintaining its influence among Palestinians via splinter groups as well as by efforts to get Hamas back in the fold. It is also hoping to back up a tottering but brutal Assad regime in Syria that has also been a faithful ally. But just as troubling for the West is the news reported today by the New York Times that Iran is knee-deep in funding an insurgency in Yemen. While Yemen has been the site of proxy wars for the Muslim world for decades (Egypt's Gamal Nasser regime came to grief there in the 1960's), any such activity in a nation that borders a potentially unstable Saudi Arabia is bound to raise alarms in the West. It should also remind those foolish advocates for a policy aimed at containing or deterring a nuclear Iran that the ayatollahs have their own ideas about what the region will look like once they get their fingers on a nuclear button... More to the point, the balance in power in Yemen as well as every other country where Iran seeks to exercise influence will be thrown to the winds once the regime goes nuclear. Though there is a debate as to how 'rational' Iran's Islamist leadership truly is, there is no doubt about its willingness to use terror as a tactic to broaden their regional power base. Even if one is willing to gamble with the lives of millions of Israelis by sitting back and letting the Iranians achieve their goal, a nuclear Iran running an active Middle East terror network will be an entirely different and far more dangerous threat. The Iranian foray in Yemen is just one more piece of a puzzle that points to the lethal nature of its rulers' grand ambitions."

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons. UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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