- The United States is threatening foreign
banks with fines and lost businesses if they continue their operations
in Iran in a bid to squeeze the Iranian regime, USATODAY reported.
- Top Treasury and State Department officials
have stepped up efforts to limit bank's operations in Iran in the past
six months, imposing banking laws and traveling to Europe and the Middle
East to stress the risks associated with dealing with the Iranians.
- U.S. officials have also demanded European
countries to take similar measures.
- "There's quite an effort being made,
by several governments, not just the U.S. government, to convince heads
of companies," says Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy.
- Moreover, the Organization for Economic
Co-operation and Development, a group of 30 leading countries with market
economies, downgraded Iran as a credit risk, raising insurance premiums
on Iranian export credits.
- Stuart Levey, undersecretary of the Treasury
for terrorism and financial intelligence, told a Senate committee in April
that banks abandoning Iran could have "tremendous impact."
- "We are seeing banks and other institutions
reassessing their ties to Iran. They are asking themselves if they really
want to be handling business for entities owned by a government engaged
in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism,"
- The U.S. campaign is aimed at shattering
the Iranian economy due to Tehran's refusal to abandon its uranium enrichment
- Washington accuses Iran of covertly seeking
atomic weapons, but the Islamic Republic insists that it has the right
to work on a peaceful nuclear program as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
- The Iranian nuclear dispute has already
shaken markets and U.S. officials say the climate of anxiety over the prospect
of UN sanctions, or even military action, is having an effect.
- "I think there is a real and growing
sense that there's a risk associated with doing business with Iran, with
lending Iran more money or providing it with a line of credit," said
Robert Joseph, under secretary of state for arms control and international
- Washington has maintained a near-total
financial embargo on Tehran since 1995. Banks with U.S. operations - governed
by U.S. law - are allowed to process payments for trade between Iran and
third countries. But they must prove that the goods being traded are not
- "The U.S. is now implementing the
1995 law a lot more and putting pressure on international banks,"
says Siamak Namazi, a Tehran-based consultant.
- * Embargo
- Correspondents say the U.S. campaign
seems to be working. More than four European banks - UBS, Credit Suisse,
ABN AMRO and HSBC - decided to end their operations in Iran.
- Bank officials said that, in some cases,
they were fined by U.S. authorities for currency violations on transactions
involving Tehran. Most large European banks have branches or bureaus in
the United States, which are subject to U.S. laws.
- UBS, which was fined by U.S. regulators
in 2004 with $100 million for currency violations involving Iran, said
that it would no longer do direct business with any individual, business
or bank in Iran or finance exports or imports for any of its corporate
clients in Iran.
- Sierk Nawijn, a spokesman for ABN AMRO,
which was fined in December with $80 million for failure to comply with
U.S. sanctions on Iran, also announced that the bank has "no representation
- Georg Söntgerath, a spokesman for
Credit Suisse, said, "As of January, we have said that we will not
enter into any new business relations with corporate clients in Iran."
He didn't directly mention the role U.S. pressure played in the bank's
decision, which also applied to Syria and some other countries. He only
said that the decision came after an assessment of an "increased economic
risk for our bank and our clients."
- Experts say banks with modest Iranian
business fear U.S. sanctions, and thus require less persuasion from the
Americans. However, some banks may be reluctant to meet U.S. demands and
give up the lucrative business of financing trade deals with Iran.
- Iran's largest trading partners are Japan,
China, Italy, Germany and France, all of which have firms that use banks
to finance letters of credit to export machinery, commodities and other
goods to Iran
- The U.S. financial pressure will eventually
make small-business owners in Iran unable to obtain bank letters of credit
for their international trading.
- But it's not clear whether the oil-rich
Iranian economy can be badly hurt this way. Earlier U.S. sanctions have
been imperfect. For example, American goods reach Iran through third countries
such as Dubai.
- "I don't see the pullout of a few
European banks doing a tremendous amount of damage," said Karim Sadjadpour,
an analyst of Iran at the International Crisis Group, an advocacy organization.
"They're making $300 million a day from oil revenues, and they can
weather the storm."