Author: StB UK Director Jacob Campbell
Late last week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reported to the UN General Assembly that “sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran have had significant effects on the general population, including an escalation in inflation, a rise in commodities and energy costs, an increase in the rate of unemployment and a shortage of necessary items, including medicine”. Unsurprisingly, these comments were quickly seized upon by President of the National Iranian American Council Trita Parsi, a well-known and influential stooge of the Iranian regime, to justify his demand for an immediate end to the sanctions.
To be sure, ordinary Iranians are suffering. But whilst Mr Ban and the various mouthpieces of the Ayatollahs blame the sanctions, the Iranian people are not buying into the narrative.
When massive protests erupted on the streets of Tehran as the value of the Iranian currency plummeted to record lows last week, there was not a burning American flag to be seen or an anti-Western slogan to be heard. Instead, hundreds of furious demonstrators chanted, “Leave Syria alone! Think of us!” – an outpouring of the anger felt by a majority of Iranians over the $10 billion squandered by Iran’s leaders in support of Bashar al-Assad’s protracted war against the Syrian people.
But it is not just the costly Syrian campaign that provoked the unrest. “I blame the government of Iran for insisting on the continuation of its useless nuclear programme,” said one merchant from the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, where the protests began. “We don’t need nuclear power at the cost of losing our business and livelihood. Can I feed my children nuclear power? Why is the welfare of people the last thing the government thinks about?”
Although UN, US and EU sanctions have undoubtedly reduced the total amount of resources at the disposal of the Iranian state, they cannot dictate how those resources are spent. Ordinary Iranians understand this, and assign blame accordingly. They know that it is the sadistic regime which necessitates the sanctions, rather than the sanctions themselves, that is the cause of their present hardship. Even the Speaker of Iran’s Parliament – not exactly a bastion of dissent – has publicly acknowledged that President Ahmadinejad’s warped priorities and fiscal mismanagement are responsible for “80 percent” of the country’s economic woes.
Nevertheless, the West must not ignore the plight of the Iranian people. When faced with a choice between serving the interests of its population and the interests of its ideology, Iran’s clerical regime is hardwired always to choose the latter. Not even the most comprehensively crippling of sanctions will change that. For this reason, it is imperative that we do everything within our power to facilitate quick and orderly regime change in Tehran. The fate of millions of Iranians depends upon it.
Source: Sky News – Hannah Thomas-Peter, New York Correspondent
Standard Chartered bank has been accused of hiding $250bn worth of illegal transactions with Iranian banks over nearly a decade.
The New York department of financial services says the bank operated as a “rogue institution”, engaged in “deceptive and fraudulent misconduct”, and lied to regulators to cover up its actions.
It is now demanding that Standard Chartered demonstrate why its state license should not be revoked.
In documents released by the regulator, department superintendent Benjamin Lawsky said Standard Chartered, “in its evident zeal to make hundreds of millions of dollars at any cost”, had “schemed” with Iran’s government to cover-up around 60,000 transactions.
Under US law, any financial dealings with Iranian banks are subject to sanctions because of concerns that US institutions could be used to finance the country’s nuclear programme or terrorist operations.
The New York regulator alleges that the bank arranged to help the Iranians by omitting or falsifying the name of the client in order to ensure transactions did not raise any red flags.
The department says the bank engaged in prohibited U-turn transactions, where a non-US financial institution transfers funds to a US bank, which then wires money directly to another non-US financial institution.
It also alleges that the practice was sanctioned at the highest levels of Standard Chartered, quoting a bank director who said: “You f*****g Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we’re not going to deal with Iranians?”
Mr Lawsky said the bank’s actions “left the US financial system vulnerable to terrorists, weapons dealers, drug kingpins and corrupt regimes”, and deprived law enforcement investigators of crucial information used to track all manner of criminal investigation.
A person familiar with the investigation said Standard Chartered must appear before the regulator on August 15, and that it must prove why “despite all its prior activities”, it is still fit to practice in New York State.
As well as possibly revoking the bank’s license, the regulator has also insisted the bank pay for an independent monitor to make sure it complies with the law.
A spokeswoman for the bank told Sky News: “We will of course be complying with the department’s requests.”
The bank said it is reviewing its compliance and discussing that with US enforcement agencies and regulators.
A statement said: “The group cannot predict when this review and these discussions will be completed or what the outcome will be.”
Standard Chartered is based in London but has a significant operation in New York, which includes wholesale banking, corporate finance and the bank’s dollar clearing operation.
A UK Treasury spokesman said: “The findings look extremely concerning and we will be looking closely at the response from Standard Chartered.”
This is not the first time a British bank has faced accusations of facilitating illegal foreign transactions.
Last month a US senate banking panel said Mexican drug cartels and Iranian financial institutions had used HSBC to get money to the United States.
Source: ABC News
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd says Australia will follow the European Union’s lead in imposing sanctions against Iran.
On Monday, the EU imposed a ban on Iranian oil imports from July in an effort to increase pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program.
Speaking in London, Mr Rudd said Australia would be taking parallel action.
“On the question of Iran, let me be absolutely clear [regarding] the actions taken in Brussels yesterday on sanctions by the European Union, we in Australia will undertake precisely the same parallel action for Australia,” he said.
But this might be more of a symbolic gesture.
Mr Rudd was asked of Australia’s reliance, if any, on Iranian oil exports.
“They have become negligible over time,” he admitted.
The EU however accounts for about 20 per cent of Iranian oil exports.
Tehran denies its nuclear program is for military purposes, insisting it is for civilian use.
On Monday Iran said it had “no concern” about finding new customers for its oil in the wake of the embargos.
“Considering the market situation, there is no concern about finding new customers and the oil ministry made arrangements a long time ago to deal with any challenge,” an Iranian oil ministry statement carried by official media said.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast echoed the comments by the oil ministry, warning that Tehran would immediately replace any country that turned its back on Iran’s vast energy reserves.
Mr Rudd is in the UK for talks with Britain on matters of defence and foreign affairs.
Source: BBC News
European Union foreign ministers have formally adopted an “unprecedented” oil embargo against Iran over its nuclear programme, banning all new oil contracts with the country.
They also agreed a freeze on the assets of Iran’s central bank in the EU.
The EU currently buys about 20% of Iran’s oil exports.
There was no official Iranian reaction, but one Iranian lawmaker played down the decision, calling it a “mere propaganda gesture”.
Iran had “failed to restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme”, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a joint statement.
“We will not accept Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran has so far had no regard for its international obligations and is already exporting and threatening violence around its region,” the leaders added.
The measures were “another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran,” US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement welcoming the move.
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog has confirmed it is sending a team to Iran between 29 and 31 January “to resolve all outstanding substantive issues”.
Last November the IAEA said in a report that it had information suggesting Iran had carried out tests “relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device” – sparking the decision by the US and EU to issue tougher sanctions.
Tehran insists its nuclear programme is for energy purposes.
Earlier on Monday, the Pentagon said the US aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, as well as a British Royal Navy frigate and a French warship, had passed through the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf without incident, in the wake of Iranian threats to block the trade route.
The EU said the sanctions prohibit the import, purchase and transport of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products as well as related finance and insurance. All existing contracts will have to be phased out by 1 July.
Investment as well as the export of key equipment and technology for Iran’s petrochemical sector is also banned.
Additional restrictions have been placed on Iran’s central bank and in the trade of gold, precious metals and diamonds.
BBC Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt says it is one of the toughest steps the EU has ever taken.
BBC Iran correspondent James Reynolds says oil is the country’s most valuable asset and sales help to keep the Iranian government in money and power.
A decision by the EU to stop buying from Iran may damage the Iranian economy – but in itself it won’t destroy it, our correspondent says.
Iran sells most of its oil to countries in Asia. The EU and the United States are now working to persuade Asian countries to reduce their purchases from Iran as well.
Iran has already threatened to retaliate by blocking the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, through which 20% of the world’s oil exports pass.
The US has said it will keep the trade route open, raising the possibility of a confrontation.
Late last year Iran conducted 10 days of military exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, test-firing several missiles.
Oil prices have risen already because of the increasing tension and the expected impact of an EU ban on oil supplies to Europe.
Source: BBC News
EU member states have agreed in principle to ban imports of Iranian crude oil to put pressure on the country over its nuclear programme.
The move is expected to be announced formally at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting at the end of January.
The US, which recently imposed fresh sanctions on Iran, welcomed the news.
Iran has dismissed the threat of new sanctions and denies Western claims that it is trying to develop a nuclear weapons programme.
Iran has also denied that a record low of its currency this week was linked to punitive US measures against its banks.
Oil prices on international markets rose on news of the EU agreement.
“We have an [EU] foreign ministers’ meeting on January 30, and on this occasion I hope we will be able to take the decision on the embargo of oil and petrol from Iran”, said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.
“We have to reassure some of our European partners who purchase Iranian oil. We have to provide them with alternative solutions”, he added.
On Tuesday France had called for “stricter sanctions” on Iran.
However, even if sanctions are adopted at the end of the month, it may be several months before they are implemented.
“These are the kinds of steps that we would like to see not just from our close allies and partners in places like Europe but from countries around the world”, said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
“We do believe that this is consistent with tightening the noose on Iran economically,” she added.
The Iranian state gets more than half of its revenue through the export of crude oil, says the BBC’s James Reynolds.
If Europe does stop buying, Iran will have to turn to countries in Asia to replace its lost trade, who will demand a discount, he adds.
The EU currently accounts for around 17% of Iranian oil exports.
In November, the US, Canada and the UK announced new sanctions against Iran in the wake of a report from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), that said Iran had carried out tests related to the “development of a nuclear device”.
But Iran was not referred to the UN Security Council because Russia and China were opposed to the move.
The Security Council has already passed four rounds of sanctions against Iran for refusing to halt uranium enrichment. Highly enriched uranium can be processed into nuclear weapons.
Iran has been holding a series of naval exercises in the Gulf in recent days, test-firing several missiles.
The exercises were held near the Strait of Hormuz, through which around 20% of the world’s traded oil passes.
Tehran said on Monday that “mock” exercises on shutting the strait had been carried out, although there was no intention of closing it.