US clamps down on Iran
By JEANNINE AVERSA,AP Economics Writer AP - Friday, November 7
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration moved Thursday to clamp down on Iran by barring financial institutions from routing certain money transfers through the United States on behalf of Iranian banks, Iran's government and others in the country.
Specifically, the Treasury Department announced that it is revoking Iran's so-called "U-turn" license that until now has allowed for such money transfers under certain conditions.
"This regulatory action will close the last general entry point for Iran to the U.S. financial system," the department said in a release.
Prior to Thursday's action, U.S. financial institutions were allowed to process certain money transfers for Iranian banks and other Iranian customers as long as the payments were initiated offshore by a bank that was not neither Iranian nor American and only passed through the U.S. financial system en route to another offshore bank that was neither Iranian nor American.
"Given Iran's conduct, it is necessary to close even this indirect access," said Stuart Levey, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The action comes as the Bush administration has repeatedly warned U.S. banks that Iran is using an array of deceptive practices to hide its alleged involvement in nuclear proliferation and terrorist activities. The United States says Iran is resorting to such alleged practices to evade detection and skirt financial sanctions.
Levey said that at one point "U-turn" licenses were widely used to process trade transactions. However, over the last two years there have been fewer "U-turn" transactions reflecting less willingness on the part of U.S. banks to handle them given the United States' ongoing financial crackdown on Iran, Levey told reporters at a briefing on the matter.
Still, Iran has used the "U-turn" transactions "as a hook to solicit foreign banks to process transactions through the United States on its behalf, sometimes with requests to substitute another bank or code word for the Iranian institution," Levey said.
The action doesn't affect otherwise permissible payments such as for shipments of food and medicine, family remittances and the export of informational materials to Iran, Levey said.
Thursday's step marks the latest effort to tighten the financial noose on Iran, which the United States accuses of bankrolling terrorism and seeking a nuclear bomb. The United States has already imposed sanctions on several state-run Iranian banks and businesses along with elements of its defense ministry and Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has pressed the administration to impose financial sanctions on Iran's central bank. The department has warned U.S. banks that Bank Markazi, Iran's central bank, is involved in deceptive practices to hide involvement in nuclear proliferation and terrorist activities.
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