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Wednesday , November 14 2018

US urges allies to cut off Iran funding – UAE disrupts Iran finance operation

SQUEEZE WILL FORCE TEHRAN TO TABLE, SAYS TRUMP

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on as US President Donald Trump addresses a press conference on the second day of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels on July 12, 2018. – AFP

BRUSSELS, July 12, (RTRS): US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on American allies on Thursday to help impose economic pressure on Iran, and accused Tehran of continuing to sell weapons in the Middle East despite United Nations resolutions. “We must cut off all funding the regime uses to fund terrorism & proxy wars,” Pompeo said in a Twitter post ahead of a scheduled meeting with the European Union’s foreign affairs and security policy representative, Federica Mogherini, in Brussels.

In May, the United States pulled out of a multinational deal that lifted many sanctions against Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear program. Washington has since told countries they must halt all imports of Iranian oil from Nov 4 or face US financial measures, with no exemptions.

Since President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement, European states have been scrambling to ensure Iran gets enough economic benefits to persuade it to maintain the nuclear curbs required in the deal. But so far it has proven difficult to offset the impact of US sanctions, with European firms reluctant to risk farreaching US financial penalties to do business in Iran.

Pompeo, who has been attending a NATO summit in Brussels flew in from Abu Dhabi, where he discussed Iran with leaders of the United Arab Emirates. Senior State Department officials have also completed three days of talks on Iran in Saudi Arabia, and “discussed new ways to deprive the regime of revenues,” a State Department official told reporters traveling on Pompeo’s plane. In Saudi Arabia, the officials discussed US oil sanctions to deny Iran revenue, maintaining a well-stocked oil market to guard against volatility and helping partners find alternatives to Iran oil, the official said. In another tweet, Pompeo said that on Thursday, together with allies from Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Jordan “we reaffirmed our support for the Syrian political process and our goals of removing Iran’s influence, defeating #ISIS, deterring chemical weapons use.” Pompeo said Iran continued to send weapons across the Middle East, “in blatant violation of #UN Security Council resolutions.” “Iran’s regime wants to start trouble wherever it can. It’s our responsibility to stop it,” he said.

Fresh deal
US President Donald Trump said Iran’s economic troubles were going to force it to seek a security deal with Washington following his withdrawal from a nuclear pact. In May the United States pulled out of a multinational deal to lift sanctions against Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear program. Washington has since told countries they must halt all imports of Iranian oil from Nov 4 or face US financial measures.

This may cut Iran’s hard currency earnings from oil exports, and the prospect has triggered a panicked flight of Iranians’ savings from the rial into dollars, weighing on an already ailing local currency, hit by economic woes and financial difficulties at local banks. Speaking to a news conference at a NATO leaders summit in Brussels, Trump said Iran was treating the US with ‘so much more respect’ following the move and he expected Tehran to reach out for a fresh deal. “I know they’re having a lot of problems and their economy is collapsing. But I will tell you this: at a certain point they’re going to call me they’re going to say ‘Let’s make a deal’.

They’re feeling a lot of pain right now.” Tehran’s Grand Bazaar was hit by strikes late in June and protesters angered by the rial’s collapse clashed with the police and traders massed outside parliament to complain about a sharp fall in the value of the national currency. European powers still support the 2015 deal, under which Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear development in exchange for international sanctions relief. They say they will do more to encourage their businesses to remain engaged with Iran, though a number of firms have already said they plan to pull out as they also face sanctions following Trump’s decision.

UAE to squeeze Iran
The United States and the United Arab Emirates have broken up a network funnelling illicit funds to Iran as Washington steps up a drive to restrict Iranian trade and access to hard currency in the region, a senior US official said on Thursday. “We jointly disrupted a currency exchange network that was transferring millions of dollars to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force,” said Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the US Treasury. She said the network was dismantled in May.

Currency exchanges had used the UAE financial system to transfer cash out of Iran and convert it into US dollars for use by Iranian-supported proxy groups in the region, she said. The network, directed by senior officials of Iran’s central bank, forged documents and disguised its dealings behind front and shell companies, Mandelker told reporters. She did not give further details of the operation. In early June, the UAE central bank announced it had restricted the operations of seven currency exchange houses for unspecified violations of anti-money laundering and other regulations. Iran has denounced the US campaign to hurt its economy as unjustified interference in its affairs.

The UAE central bank and the UAE government media office did not immediately respond to questions on Thursday on the crackdown described by Mandelker and on whether the seven exchange houses sanctioned by the central bank were involved. Mandelker was visiting the UAE after making similar trips to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to win support for the US effort to squeeze Iran, which comes after President Donald Trump decided to pull out of an international deal on Iran’s nuclear programme and reimpose sanctions on Tehran. She said governments and financial institutions in the Gulf were cooperating closely with the United States because they agreed on Tehran’s malign infl uence in the region.

Mandelker said Washington was trying to constrict Iran’s trade in general, not just its oil and gas sales, which provide for over half of its export receipts. But Washington may struggle to achieve a sharp reduction of Iranian business with the UAE. Dubai has traditionally served as a hub for exports to Iran and received Iranian investment in its businesses and real estate market. UAE exports to Iran totalled $19.9 billion in 2017, or about 5 percent of the UAE’s gross domestic product, according to International Monetary Fund data. Asked about this, Mandelker said Washington had an “excellent partnership” with the UAE. “There’s no question in my mind that working together, we can take significant action (against Iran) to disrupt their ability to fund themselves,” she said.

Iran will do its best to ensure security of oil supply to India by offering “fl exible measures” to boost bilateral trade, a statement from Tehran’s embassy in New Delhi said. Iran is the third-biggest oil supplier to India and has offered refiners incentives including almost-free shipping and an enhanced credit period on oil sales. Imports from Iran could take a hit as the United States reintroduces sanctions on Tehran after withdrawing from a nuclear deal with world powers. India, Iran’s top oil client after China, asked refiners last month to prepare for drastic reductions or even zero Iranian oil imports. “Iran understands the difficulties of India in dealing with (an) unstable energy market and it has done and will do its best to ensure security of oil supply to India,” the statement said.

India’s oil imports from Iran fell about 16 percent in June compared to May, tanker arrival data showed. “Iran has always been a reliable energy partner for India and others, seeking a balanced oil market and regional prices of oil which ensure the interest of both countries as consumer and supplier,” the statement said. India was one of the few countries that continued to deal with Iran during previous sanctions although it had to cut imports from Tehran as banking, insurance and shipping channels were choked. “We do share a very strong, very good relationship we are in touch with them (Iran) on several issues including on the fallout of the US withdrawal from (the nuclear deal),” said Raveesh Kumar, India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman

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