Posts Tagged ‘Hezbollah’

Iran, Get Ready for the Battle Rial

May 22, 2018

The Trump administration has declared financial war on the regime. It’s a good bet America will win.

Iran, Get Ready for the Battle Rial

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday presented the Islamic Republic of Iran with a stark choice: Either change or face “unprecedented financial pressure” in the form of “the strongest sanctions in history when we are complete.” The Trump administration has declared financial war on the Iranian regime. Given the seriousness of its currency emergency, it’s a good bet America will win.

Iran’s economy is in crisis. Inflation is skyrocketing, banks are in turmoil, and Iranians protest daily against the regime’s ineptitude, corruption and foreign adventurism. The currency is collapsing. In 1979, just before the Islamic revolution, Iran’s official exchange rate was 70 rial to the dollar. Today’s official rate, 42,000 to 1, is only available to those with regime connections. Most Iranians have to accept less favorable terms on the black market.

The rial experienced several waves of devaluation, including during the last ramp-up in U.S. sanctions. The black-market rate per dollar went from around 11,000 in early 2011 to close to 37,000 in 2013, immediately before the June election of President Hassan Rouhani. The latest deterioration signals a worse crisis. It was triggered by Mr. Trump’s decision in October to decertify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, indicating his intention to reimpose sanctions. The black-market rate has settled at 63,500, a nearly 40% loss of value since October. It dipped to 70,000 in the 24 hours after Mr. Trump announced on May 8 America’s official withdrawal from the nuclear deal. The regime is so desperate to avoid further collapse, it is taking extreme measures like criminalizing private currency trading and severely restricting the amount of currency Iranian travelers can take out of the country.

With the impending reimposition of sanctions, the pressure on Tehran is growing every day. Any bank that lets Iran draw on its foreign-held reserves will face total cutoff from the U.S. financial system. Trade and investment in major Iranian economic sectors will grind to a halt. Insurers will walk away from Iran-related projects. Importers of Iranian oil will reduce their purchases. Providing Iran with precious metals, which the regime might use in place of cash, will be off-limits, too. Already major European energy, insurance and shipping companies have signaled their intention to cut ties with the Islamic Republic unless their governments can negotiate sanctions waivers.

Mr. Pompeo made clear Monday that’s unlikely—and also that the administration will tighten the screws further, targeting every aspect of the regime’s finances.

What are the options? The Treasury Department has the authority to target companies owned or controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s defense industry. These represent around 20% of total market capitalization of the Tehran Stock Exchange. The Treasury could impose sanctions on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s $200 billion corporate conglomerate, including the charitable trusts, or bonyads, where regime officials stash their money. Mr. Trump could use his executive powers to target companies of which the IRGC owns a minority share, vastly expanding Treasury’s list. He could broaden sanctions to cover Iran’s mining, construction and engineering industries, and any other sector of strategic importance.

Another top target will be Hezbollah, Iran’s largest terrorist proxy. The administration should cut off Hezbollah’s companies and bankers, especially in Lebanon, from the international financial system, while cracking down on the group’s fundraising, recruitment, narcotics trafficking and other transnational criminal activities.

America’s new strategy also presents European leaders with a choice: Either help curb all of Iran’s malign activities in exchange for major American economic and diplomatic concessions, or cast their lots with the repressive theocracy responsible for a 2012 terror attack in Bulgaria, and for the bloodshed in Syria that created a refugee crisis in Europe.

The Europeans have several important roles to play in a maximum-pressure strategy. The Swift financial-messaging service, based in Brussels, would disconnect the Central Bank of Iran, as well as other designated Iranian banks. The European Central Bank would stop clearing euro-based Iranian transactions through its Target2 settlement system, whose bylaws explicitly forbid activity with banks engaged in illicit financing schemes. Central banks in European countries would stop trying to evade U.S. oil sanctions by making direct payments to Iran’s central bank. Europe would designate the IRGC and Hezbollah in their entirety as terror groups.

The Europeans could refuse to do these things if they want to play hardball and undermine the U.S. strategy. But Mr. Trump would have options to respond. American law authorizes him to impose sanctions on Swift and its directors if they refuse to disconnect Iranian banks. The president could use his executive powers to put on the sanctions list board members and senior officials at the ECB, European Investment Bank and national central banks.

That sort of showdown may seem appealing to some Europeans. But the democratic ties that bind America with Europe are far stronger than any commercial relationship between Europe and the Islamic Republic.

Just last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron ruled out any trade war with the U.S. over Iran. Other European leaders should follow their lead. Mr. Pompeo has opened the door for renewed trans-Atlantic dialogue. Brussels may be slow to warm up to America’s new, no-holds-barred financial war on the Iranian regime. But European banks and businesses ought to keep one thing in mind: In a Battle rial, anything goes.

Mr. Dubowitz is chief executive and Mr. Goldberg a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


Israel says first to use F-35 stealth fighter jets in combat

May 22, 2018

The Israeli military has used its newly acquired F-35 stealth fighters in combat, making it the world’s first to do so, the air force commander said Tuesday.

“The Adir aircraft are already operational and flying combat missions,” Major General Amikam Norkin said at a conference in central Israel, using the plane’s Hebrew name.

“In fact, we have performed the first operational F-35 strike in the world.”

“We attacked twice in the Middle East using the F-35 -? we are the first in the world to do so,” he said in remarks quoted by the air force’s website, without providing further details.

Israel has carried out a number of strikes in Syria against what it describes as Iranian targets as well as on what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah.

The country has agreed to buy 50 of the American high-tech stealth bombers, which will help it maintain military superiority in the turbulent Middle East, particularly regarding anti-aircraft missile systems in Syria.

© AFP | Israel has carried out a number of strikes in Syria against what it describes as Iranian targets as well as on what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Hezbollah

In December, the air force announced that the nine F-35 jets in its possession at the time were operational.

Norkin was speaking at an event marking the air force’s 70th anniversary in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, attended by senior air force officials from over 20 countries, the military said.

Israel has pledged to prevent its main enemy Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria, where Tehran is backing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Earlier this month, Israel launched a large-scale attack on what it said were Iranian targets in Syria, raising fears of a major confrontation.

Those strikes followed a barrage of rockets that Israel said was fired toward its forces in the occupied Golan Heights by Iran from Syria.

In his comments on Tuesday, Norkin also made reference to an Israeli strike on missiles Iran had allegedly transported to Syria, without providing a timeframe.

“Over the past weeks, we understood that Iran was transporting long-range missiles and rockets to Syria, among which are ‘Uragan’ missile launchers which we attacked, just north of Damascus,” Norkin said.

He then went on to describe the series of events on May 9 and 10.

“The Iranians fired 32 rockets. We intercepted 4 of them and the rest fell outside Israeli territory,” Norkin said.

“Afterwards, we attacked dozens of Iranian targets in Syria.”

He noted that over 100 ground-to-air missiles were fired at Israeli planes during the attack.

The strikes left at least 27 pro-regime fighters dead, including 11 Iranians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Israel has been blamed for a series of other recent strikes inside Syria that have killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged them.

As a result, Israel had been preparing itself for weeks for possible Iranian retaliation.


Pentagon assessing potential responses to Iranian behavior

May 21, 2018

The U.S. military will take all necessary steps to confront Iranian behavior in the region and is still assessing whether that could include new actions or doubling down on current ones, the Pentagon said on Monday.

“We are going to take all necessary steps to confront and address Iran’s malign influence in the region,” Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters.

Image result for Jim Mattis, photos

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis

“We are assessing if we are going to double down on current actions or implement new actions,” Manning said.

He did not comment on specific actions.


Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

An Arab Plan B for Containing Iran

May 21, 2018


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Plan A was the nuclear deal. That’s over. Now key Gulf states want the U.S. to flex more muscle.


Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal didn’t draw much international applause, but three U.S. allies in the Middle East — Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — warmly welcomed the move.

Israel had long said that the deal didn’t do enough to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power, and Gulf Arab countries believed it gave Iran cover for an intensified campaign of destabilizing the Arab world. And they have plenty of ideas when it comes to drawing up a Plan B for a U.S.-led containment campaign against Iran.

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Houthi rebels launch an Iranian made ballistic missile into Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and the UAE never shared President Barack Obama’s conviction that engagement and sanctions relief could moderate Iran’s revolutionary brashness, regional meddling and support for sectarian extremists.

So they’re pleased by Trump’s rhetorical attacks and reimposed sanctions against the Iranian regime, and they want the U.S. to foreclose any efforts by European countries that remain signatories to the nuclear deal to find a way to let their companies keep doing business with Iranian institutions.

However, Iran’s expansion as a regional power largely took place before the nuclear deal was signed, and the comprehensive international sanctions that existed in the years leading up to the agreement did not deter Tehran’s support for extremist groups in Arab countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen.

So the Gulf states don’t expect sanctions alone to do the trick. They hope that with Islamic State crushed in Iraq and Syria, Washington will now lead a coordinated regional strategy to cut Iran’s power down to size.

Among other things, they want limited and focused military action to reverse some of the gains Iran has made since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Indeed, they’ve already taken on the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, as well as the local al-Qaeda affiliate. They may also hope to play a role in confronting Iran’s lawless behavior in the waters of the Gulf itself.

They are looking for Washington to take the lead in confronting Iran in Iraq, but there, too, Saudi Arabia has shown it is willing to play a diplomatic, political and financial role.

Perhaps the most strategically vital theater in any such campaign would be Syria, which is far from the Gulf countries. There, they hope that Israel will enforce its own red lines on Iranian conduct and make life difficult for the Hezbollah militants in Syria and possibly even in their home base of Lebanon.

They would urge the U.S. to prevent Iran from taking advantage of the collapse of Islamic State in western Iraq and eastern Syria in order to create a secured military corridor running from Iran to Lebanon and the Mediterranean. Such a strategic upheaval, if secured and consolidated, would ensure that Iran emerges as a regional superpower.

Gulf Arab countries also want to work with the U.S. to persuade Turkey and Russia that their interests in Syria are not served by an empowered and aggressive Iran. Otherwise, Russia could prove a major obstacle to reducing Iran’s influence in Syria and getting Hezbollah to go back to Lebanon.

Finally, while the Gulf countries don’t want an all-out war with Iran, there are signs of Arab and American encouragement of uprisings by Iranian ethnic minorities such as Baluchis, Arabs and Kurds.

The goal isn’t regime change, partly because that’s not considered a serious possibility at the moment. What they want, instead, is a sustained containment campaign to pressure Iran to change its behavior and ambitions and constrain its ability to destabilize neighbors and spread influence.

It’s a big ask, and probably bigger than many Gulf Arab leaders realize. After decades of U.S. leadership in the region, these countries grew used to, and benefited from, a U.S.-enforced regional order. But now, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans across the political spectrum have an advanced case of Middle East war fatigue. Trump’s “America First” campaign didn’t signal much enthusiasm for the kind of interventionist foreign policy that these Gulf allies are hoping for.

But if the U.S. wants to combat terrorism and confront Iran, as the administration insists it does, Trump’s idea of withdrawing the more than 2,000 U.S. forces in Syria is a nonstarter.

The Gulf countries aren’t asking for a repetition of the 2003 adventure in Iraq, which they didn’t support or encourage. What they want is a multi-front effort to roll back Iran’s influence by defanging its proxies, supporting its enemies and insurgents and choking off its economy. Only Washington, they believe, can do that. The idea is especially to weaken Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and its clients around the region.

Containing Iran will take time, effort and troops and will not be painless. But it needn’t and shouldn’t be a madcap adventure like the campaign that began in 2003 to remake Iraq in an American image. Instead, as Russia has demonstrated in Syria, even in the Middle East it’s possible to secure limited goals with limited means, especially if allies work together. That’s what Saudi Arabia and the UAE are hoping is in the works for a Plan B regarding Iran.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Hussein Ibish at

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Jonathan Landman at

Russia Seeks Strong Foothold in Lebanon

May 20, 2018

Through a myriad of political and religious connections, Russia is seeking to establish its presence in Lebanon. In the first of a three-part exclusive for DW, Benas Gerdizunas traces Russia’s influence.

Downtown Beirut (DW/B. Gerdziunas)

Standing in front of a military parade to mark the day of Russia’s military saint, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow proclaimed: “The war against terrorism is a Holy War.”

That speech on May 4, 2016 by the head of Orthodoxy in Russia, left the fragmented Arab Christian Orthodoxy desperately trying to shed the enforced “Crusader Church” image.

Read more: Russian Orthodox Church tries to make hay

Even before those statements, 46 Lebanese Orthodox Christians signed a petition condemning the use of “Christian protection as a pretext to serve nationalistic or political goals.”

Moscow’s “Christian Protection” umbrella and the Orthodox posture — already tried and tested among Europe’s far-right movements — has now turned its attention to Lebanon.

Wikileaks, Sursock, and Gazprom

As far back as 2008, WikiLeaks exposed a cable by US Political Counselor Robert Petterson, warning of Moscow’s planned diplomatic return to the Levant.

“By establishing a physical presence for the Russian state and Church,” he wrote, Moscow will use “returned property as ‘soft power’ in the region.”

Petterson also pointed to a bizarre, Tsar-era NGO, that was revived in 1992 — The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society (IOPS).

“Although the IOPS was founded in 1872 as one of the oldest Russian NGOs, the head of Russia’s Audit Chamber, Sergey Stepashin, is chairman of the IOPS and MFA Middle East Department Deputy Director Oleg Ozerov heads its international section,” wrote Petterson.

Ultimately, the NGO rose to become a centerpiece of the in Kremlin’s activity. By the end of 2017, it managed to secure property returns in Israel and Palestine.

Belying its NGO status, the leadership of IOPS appears to have close links to the Kremlin. Mikhail Bogdanov, IOPS deputy, is currently serving as Russia’s deputy foreign minister, while Stepashin served a short stint as prime minister in 1999.

On April 23, 2017, Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, received a Russian delegation headed by IOPS chairman Stepashin. Stepashin informed the president of the “agreement to establish an IOPS office in Lebanon,” claiming “broad support for this idea from representatives of the Lebanese parliament, Orthodox organizations, and the Lebanese public.” The public involvement in question, which Stepashin did not disclose, leads to the wealthy and influential Sursock family.

Robert Sursock, a member of the Association of Orthodox Families of Beirut — essentially an alumni network for Tsar-era Russian schools under IOPS — served as the CEO of Gazprombank Invest MENA until 2015.

Russia’s state-owned Gazprombank has been under US sanctions since July 2014, in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The only public records of Gazprombank Invest MENA involve a leak in 2015, when $500 million (€423 million) were transferred from Venezuela to Lebanon.

In December 2017, a consortium including Russia’s gas producer Novatek, was given the right for gas and oil exploration in Lebanon’s coastal areas. Just under 10 percent of Novatek is owned by Gazprom, which in turn, controls Gazprombank.

Read moreGazprom’s monopoly soon a thing of the past?

Infographic showing Russian interests in Lebanon

Physical foothold for Moscow in Lebanon

On March 10, 2017, Hegumen Arseny Sokolov, Moscow Patriarchate representative in the region, reportedly thanked Metropolitan George, the Archbishop of Mount Lebanon, “for his blessing to allocate without charge a plot of land for a Russian cemetery near the Our Lady of Nourieh monastery.”

Suheil Farah, the honorary president of the Lebanese-Russian House, reportedly also attended the meeting.

In June, Russian Patriarch Kirill issued a statement, saying “I am confident that the IOPS needs to continue its work in returning Russia’s lost historical property” in the Middle East, “including Lebanon.”

However, Bishop Georges Safidi of Nourieh Monastery told DW he remains mystified by the deal. “There was a chapel and a cemetery in the contract,” he said, and claimed the deal was made “10 years ago” and that the planning permission had recently expired.

Safidi said that “the Patriarch [of Antioch] and Russia’s ambassador [to Lebanon]” knew about the initial contract.The reason the deal fell apart, according to the Bishop, was due to funding issues on the Russian side.

Lebanese-Russian house

The town of Batroun, with its Phoenician heritage stretching below the Nourieh monastery, is one of the two locations of the Lebanese-Russian House.

So far, the organization has appeared only sporadically in the documented meetings between Lebanese and Russian clergy and politicians.

In March, 2017, however, Russian Ambassador Zasypkin, Moscow Patriarchate representative Arseny Sokolov, Christian Orthodox community members and other high-profile Lebanese and Russian figures attended the 20th anniversary dinner at the Lebanese-Russian Cultural House.

“The Russians are interested in meeting the president, exploring investment options, but not trying to do politics, and the Lebanese-Russian house only does things like film screenings,” Ghassan Saoud, an independent journalist, told DW. A Christian, born in an Orthodox village in Lebanon, Ghassan has covered the appearance of political Orthodox forces and their Russian counterparts.

“My village was in urgent need of a medical ambulance, so the chief went to Russian embassy more than 10 times to ask for help, but they never did.” The reason they approached the Russians, according to Ghassan, is that they had heard of Russia’s pledge to help the Orthodox Christians in Lebanon.”If you go to the US embassy, they have USAID, and if you go to the French embassy, they also do social work,” said Ghassan.

Nourieh monastery (DW/B. Gerdziunas)A deal involving land for a Russian cemetery near the Nourieh monastery was part of Russian attempts to gain a foothold

Highlighting the possible monetary difficulties already seen with the Nourieh monastery project, he said “the Russians don’t pay for any [social projects].”

Russian-Lebanese defense deals

Meanwhile, a recent drop in the number of recorded meetings between Russian and Lebanese representatives has coincided with the last-minute delay in signing a bilateral defense deal last month.

The Kremlin has been working to secure military cooperation with Lebanon since February 2017, allegedly to enable Russian forces to use Lebanese facilities in return for an arms deal worth more than $1 billion.

The US, which provided Lebanon with $120 million in defense aid last year, has traditionally been averse to selling heavy armor and air combat weapons. According to Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center, “a number of Lebanese media reports have even suggested that the defense agreement with Russia was at least partly motivated by the fact that Defense Minister Ya‘qoub Sarraf is from the Greek Orthodox community, of which Russia has traditionally been a protector.”

Washington seeks global ‘coalition’ against Iran regime

May 18, 2018

Washington wants to build a global “coalition” against the Tehran regime and its “destabilizing activities,” the State Department said on Thursday, after pulling out from the Iran nuclear accord to the anger of US allies.

The plan is to be detailed on Monday by the top United States diplomat, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in his first major foreign policy address since taking office in April.

“The US will be working hard to put together a coalition,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.


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The aim is to “bring together a lot of countries from around the world with the specific goal of looking at the Iranian regime through a more realistic lens” which would include “all of its destabilizing activities that aren’t just a threat to the region but are a threat to the broader world,” she said.

Nauert added that the coalition will not be “anti-Iran” because the US stands “firmly behind” the country’s people, in contrast to the regime and its “bad actions.”

She evoked a comparison with the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Begun in 2014, that coalition now counts as members 75 countries or institutions and intervened militarily against the jihadists, although only a minority of coalition members have conducted most of that military action, which has left the extremists nearly defeated on that battlefield.

Nauert did not say whether the proposed coalition against Iran’s regime would have a military component.

She said the State Department received on Monday about 200 foreign diplomats to explain to them President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear accord, and the next steps.

In a breakthrough that ended a 12-year standoff over Western fears that Iran was developing a nuclear bomb, the administration of former president Barack Obama and other major powers reached the accord with Iran in 2015.

It lifted punishing international sanctions in return for Iran’s agreement to freeze its nuclear effort.

Withdrawing from the deal last week, Trump called for a new agreement with deeper restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program as well as curbs on its ballistic missiles and its backing for militant groups across the Middle East.

Along with Iran the other signatories of the 2015 deal — France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia — strongly criticized the US withdrawal.

On Thursday the European Union said it will begin moves to block the effect of reimposed US sanctions on Iran as efforts to preserve the nuclear deal deepened a transatlantic rift.

Asked about the potential willingness of European nations to join the proposed new coalition, Nauert said many US allies “fully understand” and are “not turning a blind eye” to Iran’s actions.

US, Gulf states slap new sanctions on Hezbollah leadership

May 17, 2018

The US Treasury Department said four other individuals were also sanctioned, as was the group Daesh in the Greater Sahara, which was designated as a foreign terrorist organization

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (left) and his deputy, Naim Qassem. (AFP & Reuters photos)

WASHINGTON: The United States and Gulf partners imposed additional sanctions on Lebanon’s Hezbollah leadership on Wednesday, targeting its top two officials, Hassan Nasrallah and his deputy, Naim Qassem.

The US Treasury Department said four other individuals were also sanctioned, as was the group Daesh in the Greater Sahara, which was designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

It was the third round of sanctions announced by Washington since the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal last week.

Wednesday’s sanctions targeted members of the primary decision-making body of Hezbollah, Treasury said in a statement.

“By targeting Hezbollah’s Shoura Council, our nations collectively rejected the false distinction between a so-called ‘Political Wing’ and Hezbollah’s global terrorist plotting,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The move expands US sanctions against Nasrallah, who was sanctioned by Washington in 1995 for threatening to disrupt the Middle East peace process and again in 2012 over Syria. It is, however, the first time that the US Treasury has acted against Qassem, who is being listed for his ties to Hezbollah.

The measures were imposed jointly by Washington and its partners in the Terrorist Financing and Targeting Center (TFTC), which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates, it said.

The Gulf states targeted four of the movement’s committees and ordered individuals’ assets and bank accounts frozen.

On Tuesday, the US imposed sanctions on Iran’s central bank governor and an Iraq-based bank for “moving millions of dollars” for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Last week, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions against six individuals and three companies it said were funneling millions of dollars to the Revolutionary Guard’s external arm, Quds Force.

Arab News


U.S. Sanctions Iran Central Bank Governor for Alleged Terrorist Support

May 15, 2018

Treasury sanctioned nine Iranians and companies last week

People walk by a mural in Tehran.

Photographer: Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg

The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions Tuesday on Iran’s central bank governor and another senior official in the bank for allegedly providing support for terrorist activities.

Treasury named Valiollah Seif, Iran’s central bank governor, and Ali Tarzali, the assistant director of the international department at the central bank of Iran, as “specially designated global terrorists” for allegedly assisting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force to support Hezbollah. The U.S. accused Seif of playing a role in funneling millions of dollars on behalf of the Quds Force to support Hezbollah.

“It is appalling, but not surprising, that Iran’s senior-most banking official would conspire with the IRGC-QF to facilitate funding of terror groups like Hizballah, and it undermines any credibility he could claim in protecting the integrity of the institution as a central bank governor,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “The United States will not permit Iran’s increasingly brazen abuse of the international financial system.”

The new sanctions cut off Iran’s access to a “critical banking network,” the Treasury Department said in a statement, adding that it seeks to “stifle Iran’s ability to abuse the U.S. and regional financial system.”

The action against Seif does not sanction the Central Bank of Iran, though the bank is targeted under sanctions President  Donald Trump reinstated when he withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.

By Nov. 5, sanctions will be re-imposed on those engaging with “certain significant transactions” with Iran’s central bank.

The U.S. sanctioned nine Iranian citizens and companies on Thursday for allegedly operating a currency exchange network that — with the help of Iran’s central bank — transferred millions of U.S. dollars on behalf of the Quds force.

The action comes a week after Trump announced that the U.S. was pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions that were in place before the 2015 agreement.

Seif is also under attack inside Iran. Half of Iran’s lawmakers have written to President Hassan Rouhani demanding the removal of the central bank chief, accusing him of mismanaging the banking industry and currency markets as the rial weakened.

US hits Iran central bank governor with sanctions

May 15, 2018

The United States slapped sanctions Tuesday on Valiollah Seif, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran, accusing him of helping the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps transfer millions of dollars to Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Image result for Valiollah Seif,, photos

ValiollahSeif, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran

In the second move in a week taking aim at the money networks of the Revolutionary Guards, or IRGC, the US Treasury also blacklisted a second central bank official, Iraq’s Al-Bilad Islamic Bank and its top two executives, and a liaison between IRGC and Hezbollah, which Washington has designated an international terrorist group.

The Treasury said Seif covertly moved “hundreds of millions of dollars” to Hezbollah from IRGC via Al-Bilad Islamic Bank.

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Al-Bilad Islamic Bank

Tuesday’s action seeks to cut off what the US called a “critical” banking network for Iran, and deny those blacklisted access to the global financial system.

“The United States will not permit Iran’s increasingly brazen abuse of the international financial system,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“The global community must remain vigilant against Iran’s deceptive efforts to provide financial support to its terrorist proxies.”

On Thursday, the Treasury announced sanctions against a “large scale” currency exchange network serving the Revolutionary Guards, hitting six individuals and three companies at the center of the network.

At the time, the US singled out the Central Bank of Iran as “complicit” in the operation, foreshadowing Tuesday’s action.

The move against Seif came one week after President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear accord and signalled plans to ratchet up pressure on the Iranian economy, and especially on the economic power of the Revolutionary Guards.



Iran FM heads to Brussels on final leg of nuclear deal saving tour

May 15, 2018

Iran’s foreign minister is due to land in Brussels later Tuesday on the final leg of a global tour rallying diplomatic support for the country’s nuclear deal after the Trump administration’s abrupt withdrawal.

Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet with his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany — the three European nations involved in the landmark deal who are incensed by Washington’s abandonment of the pact.

© POOL/AFP | Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is headed to Brussels after meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov


After long negotiations, Iran agreed in July 2015 to freeze its nuclear programme in return for the repeal of punishing international sanctions.

But last week US President Donald Trump announced he was leaving the deal and reimposing sanctions.

Zarif’s has since embarked on a whirlwind global tour, visiting both Russia and China, the two other signatory nations, in a bid to bolster support.

Washington’s decision to go against its European allies’ advice and abandon the deal has pushed them closer to Beijing and Moscow as diplomats scramble to keep the pact alive.

“The agreement with Iran is working, we must do our utmost to preserve it,” Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for the head of European diplomacy Federica Mogherini, told AFP ahead of Zarif’s arrival.

Iran has said it is preparing to resume “industrial-scale” uranium enrichment “without any restrictions” unless Europe can provide solid guarantees that it can maintain trade ties despite renewed US sanctions.

On Monday Zarif met with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, a day after visiting leaders in Beijing.

“The final aim of these negotiations is to seek assurances that the interests of the Iranian nation will be defended,” Zarif said at the start of a meeting.

After the talks, Zarif praised the “excellent cooperation” between Moscow and Tehran and said Lavrov had promised him to “defend and keep the agreement”.

Lavrov, for his part, said Russia and Europe had a duty to “jointly defend their legal interests” in terms of the deal.

– ‘Malign behaviour’ –

On Monday Zarif also sent a letter to the United Nations in which he accused the US of showing a “complete disregard for international law” in pulling out of the deal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan about efforts to save the accord, after voicing his “deep concern” over Trump’s decision.

And on Monday Putin met Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, telling him that Russia was “ready to continue to uphold the Iran nuclear deal despite the withdrawal of the United States”.

Analyst say Trump’s move to ditch the nuclear deal has brought Europe, Moscow and Beijing together.

“(European) cooperation with Russia, which until recently seemed impossible because of the Skripal (spy poisoning) case, with the expulsion of diplomats and the reduction of contact, is now receiving a fresh boost,” said Andrei Baklitsky of the Moscow-based PIR Center nuclear safety NGO.

“The Europeans, after the withdrawal of the US from the deal, have found themselves forced to save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action themselves,” he told AFP, referring to the official name of the nuclear deal.

Moscow would have to play a key role in ensuring Tehran does not resume its nuclear programme, he added.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington still wants to work with Europe to counter Iran’s “malign behaviour” and was working hard to thrash out a more wide-ranging deal with its European partners.

But while he talked up the prospect of renewed coordination with America’s allies, another top aide reminded Europe its companies could face sanctions if they continue to do business with the Middle Eastern power.

Russian efforts to save the accord will boost its role as a power player in the Middle East, after its intervention on the side of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

This, along with its diplomatic moves to orchestrate an end to the Syrian conflict, has put Moscow at loggerheads with the US and Europe, which have intervened against the regime.

Merkel is set to visit Russia and meet Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday, while French President Emmanuel Macron will be in Saint Petersburg later this month for an economic forum.