Cohen: US Eyes Further Action Against Iran Central Bank – Transcript


By David Cohen, US Under Secretary

Chairman Johnson, Ranking Member Shelby, and distinguished members of the Committee: Thank you for the opportunity to appear here today to discuss the Treasury Department’s contribution to the Obama Administration’s integrated strategy to address the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program and its support for terrorism.

The focus of my testimony today will be the progress we are making in our financial strategy to pressure Iran, and, in particular, the steps we are taking to implement the financial provisions of CISADA.

But first, I would like to say a few words about this week’s revelation that we disrupted an Iran Qods Force plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador here in Washington.

This is a dramatic reminder that the urgent and serious threat we face from Iran is not limited to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. We have been working for several years to address the full spectrum of Iranian illicit conduct, including nuclear and missile proliferation, human rights abuses, misuse of the international financial system and support for terrorist groups worldwide.

This week is no different. On Tuesday, Treasury imposed financial sanctions against five individuals, including the Commander of the Qods Force and three other senior Qods Force officers connected to the assassination plot. In taking this action, Treasury exposed the Iranian government’s involvement in the plot through the Qods Force, Iran’s primary arm for exporting terror.

And just yesterday, we took another action targeting Qods Force involvement in terrorist activities, this time by imposing sanctions on Mahan Air – Iran’s second largest airline – which was secretly ferrying operatives, weapons and funds on its flights for the Qods Force.

This week’s actions follow on a series of recent steps taken by the Treasury Department to expose Iranian illicit behavior and ratchet up the pressure on Tehran. In the last few months, we have imposed sanctions on –

  • Tidewater, a major Iranian port operator owned by the IRGC;
  • Iran Air, Iran’s national airline, for supporting the IRGC;
  • an al Qa’ida network operating in Iran under an agreement with the Iranian government;
  • and individuals and entities involved in human rights abuses, both within Iran and supporting the Syrian government’s repression of the Syrian people.

Actions like these – along with international sanctions — have put increasing financial pressure on Iran, and CISADA has markedly amplified this effect. CISADA has helped us deepen and broaden Iran’s isolation from the international financial system. Since the President signed CISADA into law last July, my colleagues in the Treasury Department and I have worked aggressively to implement it. We have met with foreign banks, regulators and government officials in nearly 50 countries. We explain to banks and governments worldwide that CISADA offers a clear choice: a foreign bank can have access to the largest and most important financial sector in the world – the United States – or it can do business with sanctioned Iranian banks, but it cannot do both.

For the overwhelming majority of foreign banks, the choice has been a simple one. Those with potentially sanctionable relationships quickly elected to stop that business. And where we learn of potentially sanctionable activity under CISADA, we have actively investigated it, engaging in particular with foreign bank’s regulator and home government.

Our efforts are paying off. Iran is now facing unprecedented levels of financial and commercial isolation. The number and quality of foreign banks willing to transact with designated Iranian financial institutions has dropped precipitously over the last year.

Iran’s shrinking access to financial services and trade finance has made it extremely difficult for Iran to pay for imports and receive payment for exports. Iran’s Central Bank has been unable to halt the steady erosion in the value of its currency.

And Iran has been increasingly unable to attract foreign investment, especially in its oil fields, leading to a projected loss of $14 billion a year in oil revenues through 2016.

We are making progress, but there is still much to be done to prevent Iran from evading sanctions already in place and to apply sufficient additional pressure on Iran. In this regard, we continue to focus on the Central Bank of Iran (“the CBI”). Although U.S. financial institutions are already generally prohibited from doing business with any bank in Iran – including the CBI – further U.S. action against the CBI, if it attained multilateral support, could further isolate the CBI, with a potentially powerful impact on Iran. I can assure the Committee, as Secretary Geithner said in his letter of August 29, “All options to increase the financial pressure on Iran are on the table, including the possibility of imposing additional sanctions against the CBI.”

If Iran continues to choose its path of defiance, we will continue to develop new and innovative ways to impose additional costs on Iran. I look forward to continuing our work with Congress to advance our national interests.

Oral Testimony by Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen before the Senate Banking Committee, Oct 13, 2011

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