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September 11, 2007
What Did England Pay to Get its Hostages Back from Iran?
Buried in this article regarding Iran's use of banks and front companies to develop its nuclear weapons program (including European banks acquiescing in removing Iranian names from financial documents so as to escape detection by American authorities) is this nugget:
The UN debate over sanctions against Bank Sepah coincided with a drama on the high seas. On March 23, the day after the draft resolution was introduced, Iran captured 15 British marines and soldiers in the Persian Gulf. The next day, the Security Council passed Resolution 1747 ordering nations to restrict the operations of Bank Sepah.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the UN sanctions on Bank Sepah were based on bad intelligence and designed to serve the countries that promoted it. "Schemes of the co-sponsors of the resolution are for narrow national considerations and aimed at depriving the Iranian people of their inalienable rights rather than emanating from any so-called proliferation concerns," he said at the March 24 Security Council meeting.
On March 25, the U.K. Treasury froze all assets of Bank Sepah International Plc, the bank's London-based subsidiary. The Bank of Italy took similar action against the Rome branch the next day. The central bank also installed commissioners at the branch, ending D'Andrea's stint as a consultant. "The Bank of Italy brings to the attention of intermediaries the reputational and operational risks involved in relations with subjects designated by the sanctions, among them being Bank Sepah," the central bank said in a March 30 release. A Bank of Italy spokesman declined further comment.
Five days later, on April 4, Iran ended the standoff with the U.K. It said it was releasing the British marines and soldiers. Two weeks later, on April 17, the U.K. Treasury loosened some restrictions on the London branch. The U.K. issued a license to Bank Sepah International that let the bank make payments to depositors and staff.
US Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey does not take exception to this license, which he says falls within the range of allowable exceptions to the UN sanctions. However, the closeness in time between the release of the British sailors and the release of the Iranian bank from this restriction should give one pause. Furthermore, it makes one perturbed that Western nations-and American politicians and Western diplomats-who advocate the sanctions only approach against Iran are also liable to loosen or abolish these restrictions in the course of time.