Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Britain Steps Up Pressure on the Iranian Regime

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The Times

Britain has increased pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme by announcing a trading ban with two Iranian companies that violated UN sanctions. The move turns up the heat on Iran before a second round of negotiations over its nuclear programme, which is due by the end of the month. Sarah McCarthy-Fry, the Treasury Minister, said that British companies would no longer be allowed to do business with the Iranian state-owned maritime carrier because of its role in helping to supply Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme. The Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines had “transported goods for both Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes,” she told Parliament. Three days earlier a German ship leased to the company was caught in Malta with ammunition and weapons apparently bound for Syria, in violation of UN sanctions. Bank Mellat, one of Iran’s largest banks, was also blacklisted on the grounds that it has been “involved in transactions related to financing Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programme”. Under the ban “financial and credit institutions will no longer be able to enter into new transactions or business relationships with these entities, nor to continue with existing transactions or business relationships unless they are licensed by HM Treasury”. Any British company that does not implement the ban, which has immediate effect, could face fines or its key executives could face a jail sentence of up to two years. Bank Mellat is one of Iran’s largest banks, nationalised in 1980 by the forced merger of 10 private banks, and is understood to have $40 billion of assets. Its branch in London trades as Persia International Bank. Ali Akbar Javanfekr, the spokesman for President Ahmedinejad, condemned the move. “The new decision by the British Government needs further study, but past experience shows that imposing any kind of sanctions against Iran will benefit the Iranian nation in the end," he said. “If the British Government decided to impose sanctions against Iran this would show that Britain is getting far from the realities of the current world and such a trend will be against the interests of the British people.”

The move is an enforcement of the existing three rounds of sanction imposed by the Security Council. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, acknowledged last week that existing UN sanctions were “leaky” and had not put as much pressure on the regime as they had hoped. US Administration officials have said that even before the imposition of any new sanctions, the tightening and enforcement of those already in existence could step up pressure on the regime.Washington has warned Iran that it has until the end of December to prove its good faith in its nuclear programme or face punishing new sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council or, failing that, by a coalition of American, European and other allies. The Treasury’s action brings Britain closer into line with the American sanction regime on Iran and come just days after a high-level multilateral meeting in Washington between member states of a possible sanctions alliance. Iranian negotiators are due in Vienna next week to discuss details of a deal to transfer its stocks of low-enriched uranium overseas for further enrichment, a compromise aimed at removing the threat of nuclear fuel being diverted to a military programme. International inspectors are due in Iran a week later for their first look inside the newly revealed uranium enrichment plant at Qom. After that, world powers will gather for a second and critical round of talks with Iran in Geneva that diplomats say could determine the likelihood of a new sanctions regime come by the end of the year.