JEDDAH: A global financial watchdog on Friday warned Iran to clamp down on terrorism financing by February or face a deeper squeeze on its sanctions-hit economy.
Tehran, already hurt by a resumption of US sanctions, this month approved a bill to help meet demands imposed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
But nine of the 10 “action plan” items needed to remove Iran from an FATF blacklist have yet to be adopted by Tehran, according to Marshall Billingslea, the US assistant treasury secretary for terrorist financing.
“In our plenary, here in Paris, we expressed our disappointment that the majority of the action plan remains outstanding,” said Billingslea, who currently chairs the FATF, told a news conference.
“We expect that they will have adopted all these measures by February,” he said.
Billingslea said if measures were not adopted by February next year, the FATF will take further steps to protect against the risks from Iran’s lack of action.
For Iran, access to finance has become particularly pressing since the United States walked out of a 2015 nuclear deal earlier this year and began reimposing sanctions.
Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Dr. Majid Rafizadeh said Tehran will not meet the FATF’s requirements by February.
“Terror financing is deeply embedded in Iran’s political structure,” he told Arab News. “In fact, since 1979 it has been a core pillar of Tehran’s foreign policy to achieve its regional hegemonic ambitions and export its revolutionary principles. Financing terrorism is the raison d’etre of the Iranian regime.”
Iran will not clamp down on its terror financing, he said. “It’s a state sponsor of terrorism in the world. According to my research at Harvard, the Iranian regime supports almost half of the world’s designated terrorist groups,” Rafizadeh added.
“It’s therefore absurd to believe that Tehran will meet the FATF’s requirements by February.”
Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said Iran has had since 1979 to end its financial support for designated terror groups such as Hezbollah, which have bases throughout the Middle East, Europe, Latin America and even North America.
“(Supreme Leader) Ali Khamenei has a choice: Either prioritize the economic needs of the Iranian people, who stand to benefit the most from ending illicit terror financing, or continue to be in violation of international law while giving free reign to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and its black-market business empire, which has created a new class of enormously rich elites,” said Shahbandar.
The other parties to the deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — have sought to salvage the agreement and maintain trade with Iran, but have demanded that it accede to the FATF.
Among the further steps demanded by the FATF, originally an initiative of the G7 nations, was for Iran to identify and freeze extremist assets in line with UN Security Council resolutions.
Another was for Tehran to remove an exemption from its legislation that allows financing toward groups deemed to be attempting to end “foreign occupation, colonialism and racism.”
In a statement, the FATF said it will review Iran’s remaining legislation once it is in place to determine whether Tehran had met its demands.
It urged FATF members to exercise heightened checks on transactions involving Iranian businesses and nationals.
Iran is one of only two countries on the FATF blacklist.
The other is North Korea, and Friday’s statement reiterated “serious concerns” about the Asian country’s illicit activities to finance its missile and nuclear programs.