U.S. intensifies pres­sure on Iran

Cen­tral banker hit with anti-ter­ror sanc­tions


WASH­ING­TON — The United States in­ten­si­fied its fi­nan­cial pres­sure on Iran on Tues­day, slap­ping anti-ter­ror sanc­tions on the head of its cen­tral bank and bar­ring any­one around the world from do­ing busi­ness with him. That dealt a fur­ther blow to Euro­pean hopes of sal­vaging the Ira­nian nu­clear deal in the wake of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s with­drawal.

Vali­ol­lah Seif, the gov­er­nor of the Ira­nian cen­tral bank, was named a “spe­cially des­ig­nated global ter­ror­ist” along with an­other se­nior of­fi­cial, Ali Tarzali, who works in the cen­tral bank’s in­ter­na­tional di­vi­sion. The Trea­sury De­part­ment ac­cused the men of se­cretly fun­nel­ing mil­lions of dol­lars through an Iraqi bank to help Hezbol­lah, the mil­i­tant net­work that the U.S. con­sid­ers a ter­ror­ist group.

Al­though the sanc­tions do not tech­ni­cally ex­tend to the cen­tral bank it­self, they could sig­nif­i­cantly in­crease Iran’s iso­la­tion from the global fi­nan­cial sys­tem. Seif, whose role is equiv­a­lent to the Fed­eral Re­serve chair­man in the U.S., over­sees ma­jor fi­nan­cial de­ci­sions in Iran. Any trans­ac­tions that in­volve his sig­na­ture could po­ten­tially run afoul of the sanc­tions, cre­at­ing a strong dis­in­cen­tive for gov­ern­ments or busi­nesses con­sid­er­ing deals in­volv­ing Iran’s cen­tral bank.

“The United States will not per­mit Iran’s in­creas­ingly brazen abuse of the in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial sys­tem,” Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin said. “The global com­mu­nity must re­main vig­i­lant against Iran’s de­cep­tive ef­forts to pro­vide fi­nan­cial sup­port to its ter­ror­ist prox­ies.”

Typ­i­cally, when the U.S. pun­ishes in­di­vid­u­als with sanc­tions, it pro­hibits Amer­i­cans or U.S. com­pa­nies from do­ing busi­ness with them. In this case, the U.S. chose to also im­pose “sec­ondary sanc­tions,” which also ap­ply to non-Amer­i­cans and non-U.S. com­pa­nies. That means that any­one in any coun­try who does busi­ness with Seif or Tarzali could be pun­ished.

The lat­est move comes as Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, deem­ing the 2015 nu­clear ac­cord in­suf­fi­ciently tough on Iran, seeks to con­struct a global coali­tion to place enough pres­sure on Tehran that it comes back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

Yet the Euro­pean mem­bers of the in­ter­na­tional ac­cord, livid at Trump over his with­drawal, have yet to com­mit to that ef­fort. To the con­trary, Bri­tain, France and Ger­many are work­ing to sal­vage it. Their top diplo­mats met Tues­day in Brus­sels with Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif in a bid to keep Iran from bail­ing.

Whether the deal can sur­vive with­out the U.S. de­pends on whether Tehran con­tin­ues to re­ceive suf­fi­cient eco­nomic ben­e­fits by way of busi­ness with the Euro­peans. Not only is Trump re-im­pos­ing sanc­tions on Iran, but he’s also threat­en­ing to take the dra­matic step of pun­ish­ing Euro­pean busi­nesses that don’t wind down their deal­ing there. That has left the Euro­peans in the po­si­tion of hav­ing to de­cide whether to call his bluff.

Vali­ol­lah Seif

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