Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)

Trump tar­gets Ira­nian banks, seek­ing crip­pling blow be­fore US vote

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Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion i mposed sweep­ing sanc­tions Thurs­day on Iran’s bank­ing sec­tor, tak­ing a ma­jor new step to crip­ple the arch-ri­val’s al­ready strug­gling econ­omy weeks ahead of US elec­tions.

The Trea­sury De­part­ment said it was des­ig­nat­ing 18 ma­jor Ira­nian banks, a move that could largely cut off the na­tion of 80 mil­lion peo­ple from the world’s fi­nan­cial sys­tem just as it tries to cope with the Mid­dle East’s worst COVID-19 out­break.

The United States de­fied con­cerns from Euro­pean al­lies that the sanc­tions could cause need­less suf­fer­ing and in­sisted it was mak­ing ex­emp­tions for hu­man­i­tar­ian trade.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion

did not list spe­cific ac­cu­sa­tions against most of the banks, in­stead declar­ing broadly that the en­tire Ira­nian fi­nan­cial sec­tor may be used to sup­port the gov­ern­ment’s con­tested nu­clear pro­gram and its “ma­lign re­gional in­flu­ence.”

Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin said the ac­tion would “stop il­licit ac­cess to US dol­lars.”

“Our sanc­tions pro­grammes will con­tinue un­til Iran stops its sup­port of ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties and ends its nu­clear pro­grams,” he said in a state­ment.

Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif ac­cused the United States of try­ing to “blow up our re­main­ing chan­nels to pay for food and medicine” dur­ing the pan­demic.

“Ira­ni­ans WILL sur­vive this lat­est of cru­el­ties. But con­spir­ing to starve a pop­u­la­tion is a crime against hu­man­ity,” Zarif wrote on Twit­ter.

“Cul­prits & en­ablers - who block our money - WILL face justice.”

The Trea­sury De­part­ment said it was ex­empt­ing trans­ac­tions in hu­man­i­tar­ian goods such as food and medicine. But Euro­pean diplo­mats and some ex­perts say US sanc­tions nonethe­less have dire con­se­quences, with few in­sti­tu­tions will­ing to take the risks of le­gal ac­tion in the world’s largest econ­omy.

Bar­bara Slavin, di­rec­tor of the Fu­ture of Iran Ini­tia­tive at the At­lantic Coun­cil, de­scribed the move as “sadism mas­querad­ing as for­eign pol­icy,” say­ing it would only hurt or­di­nary peo­ple and en­cour­age smug­gling, work­ing against sanc­tions that are al­ready in place.

The Trea­sury De­part­ment said the sanc­tions will be ef­fec­tive in 45 days, giv­ing com­pa­nies time to wind down trans­ac­tions in Iran.

The time­frame will also give any­one work­ing with Iran a chance to see the Novem­ber 3 elec­tion, with polls show­ing Trump trail­ing Demo­crat Joe Bi­den, who sup­ports a re­turn to diplo­macy.

Trump has pur­sued a pol­icy of “max­i­mum pres­sure” aimed at rein­ing in Iran, the arch-ri­val of US al­lies Saudi Ara­bia and Is­rael.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has al­ready moved to stop all Ira­nian oil ex­ports and bolted from a deal ne­go­ti­ated un­der for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama through which Iran cur­tailed its nu­clear pro­gram.

Since Trump’s im­po­si­tion of uni­lat­eral sanc­tions, Iran has taken small but steady moves away from the nu­clear ac­cord. Bi­den’s run­ning mate pick Ka­mala Har­ris, in a de­bate Wed­nes­day with Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, said the pullout from the ac­cord has led to Iran build­ing “what might end up be­ing a sig­nif­i­cant nu­clear arsenal.” The US had been part of the Iran nu­clear deal along with world al­lies but “be­cause of Don­ald Trump’s uni­lat­eral ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy, cou­pled with his iso­la­tion­ism, he pulled us out and has made Amer­ica less safe,” she said.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­peat­edly butted heads on Iran with Euro­pean al­lies, who most re­cently re­jected a US le­gal ar­gu­ment that Washington can re­vive UN sanc­tions against Tehran.

Behnam Ben Tale­blu, a senior fel­low at the Foun­da­tion for the De­fense of Democ­ra­cies, a group close to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion that ad­vo­cates hawk­ish poli­cies on Iran, said the lat­est sanc­tions showed that Washington still had more lever­age in pres­sur­ing Iran. “These sanc­tions could go away, just like the oth­ers, if Tehran de­cided to act like a nor­mal na­tion and put na­tional in­ter­est and the wel­fare of its own peo­ple over the rev­o­lu­tion­ary pri­or­i­ties of the regime,” he said.

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Don­ald Trump

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