U.S., Russia at Odds over U.N. Sanctions on Iran

U.N. Security Council sanctions seem to have had little impact on Iran so far. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still vowing to press ahead with his country's nuclear program. Bush administration officials have complained that the sanctions are weak and are starting a new push to get countries and private banks to do more.

Stuart Levey's job title is lengthy. He is the Treasury Department's Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. But his job can be summed up in just a couple of words: he's the Bush administration sanctions guy.

He is not just enforcing U.S. sanctions against Cuba, North Korea, Syria or Iran. He is also going to the private sector abroad to sound the alarms.

"We've been sharing information with financial institutions and governments about the deceptive tactics iran uses to advance its proliferation program and to fund terrorism," Levey said in a recent interview. "They essentially engage in front companies and obscuring transactions so it is hard to know who is really on the other side of the transaction."

Levey's office led a similar campaign against North Korea — persuading a bank in Macao to freeze North Korean accounts, which the U.S. said were used for illicit financial activities. He points out that while North Korea is isolated, Iran depends more on outside financial services for business, particularly in the oil sector.

"The private sector has amplified the whole effort much greater than governments could have done alone," Levey said.

Levey and other U.S. officials are now trying to encourage European governments to stop their export-credit-guarantee programs for companies doing business in Iran.

The European Union's foreign policy chief — Javier Solana — says governments there are focused first on implementing the more narrow U.N. sanctions resolution passed in late December.

"What we have to do is apply the resolution," he said. "The resolution has elements which are direct and simple others are more complicated."

At the U.N., Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin sounded fairly annoyed last week about the Treasury Department's campaign.

"It is our very strong belief that as long as we act collectively — we better stay this way — if in addition and outside these collective measures, we start doing unilateral things — we don't think that will be so helpful," Churkin said.

Russia is building a civilian nuclear power plant in Iran and has other major business ties. It worked hard to limit the U.N. sanctions so that they wouldn't hurt legitimate business dealings. Still, Levey says no one should underestimate the sanctions that are on the books.

"From my perspective as the guy who does sanctions policy, if you read this resolution and if it is really faithfully enforced, it could be very powerful," he said.

One of the individuals listed on the sanctions resolution, he said, is the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

"And the resolution also requires that the assets be frozen of all the entities he owns or controls," Levey said. "So if it is fully implemented that applies to the entire IRGC."

The U.S. sees the Revolutionary Guard as the main power base for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. State Department officials are promising to step up this campaign to try to put a financial squeeze on Iran.

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