US Treasury imposes sanctions on 18 major banks in Iran

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testifies during a Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing examining the quarterly CARES Act report to Congress, in Washington, DC, U.S., September 24, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 09 October 2020

US Treasury imposes sanctions on 18 major banks in Iran

  • The Treasury Department said it was designating 18 major Iranian banks
  • The sanctions will be effective in 45 days, the department said

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump's administration on Thursday imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran's banking sector, taking a major new step aimed at crippling the arch-rival's economy weeks ahead of US elections.
The Treasury Department said it was designating 18 major Iranian banks, a step that could largely cut off the nation of 80 million people from the world's financial system just as it tries to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Trump administration did not list specific accusations against most of the banks, instead declaring broadly that the entire Iranian financial sector may be used to support the government's contested nuclear program and its "malign regional influence."
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the action would "stop illicit access to US dollars."
"Our sanctions programs will continue until Iran stops its support of terrorist activities and ends its nuclear programs," he said in a statement.
The Treasury Department said it was exempting transactions in humanitarian goods such as food and medicine.
But European diplomats say that US sanctions nonetheless have dire humanitarian consequences, with few institutions in other nations willing to take the risks of legal action in the world's largest economy.
The Treasury Department said its sanctions will be effective in 45 days, giving companies time to wind down transactions in Iran.
The timeframe will also likely give anyone working with Iran a chance to see the outcome of the November 3 election, with polls showing Trump trailing to Democrat Joe Biden, who supports a return to diplomacy with Iran.
Trump has pursued a policy of "maximum pressure" aimed at reining in Iran, the arch-rival of US allies Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The Trump administration has already moved to stop all Iranian oil exports and bolted from a deal negotiated under former president Barack Obama through which Iran curtailed its nuclear program.


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.