Archive for the ‘Iranian banks’ category

Finally, an Iranian Spring

January 2, 2018

Finally, an Iranian Spring, Al ArabiyaDr. Khaled M. Batarfi, January 2, 2017

Over 60 towns have joined the rebellion, so far. Iran is awakening. Iranians are demanding their freedom, democracy and rights. They regretted supporting a revolution that turned against them.

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When Iranians protested, mostly in Tehran, for the best half of 2009, they were angry about the rigged presidential election in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated his “reformist” rival Mehdi Karroubi. The “Green Revolution,” was about the government —not the regime change. It was led by an elite, educated and well-to-do metropolitans supporting to the reformist movement.

Recent protests are different in many ways. It started in Mashhad, a conservatively religious city, and the birthplace of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, where some 160,000 angry investors lost their life savings in a fraud residential project.

Banks owned by the Revolutionary Guards suddenly closed down wiping out all deposits. And many companies haven’t paid salaries for up to a year! For a couple of years, after the burning of the Saudi Embassy, Shiite tourists from wealthy Gulf region ceased to come and hundreds of business closed down.

Poor, unemployed and hungry people went out to call for a new revolution. They were calling Khamenei a dictator who lives in luxury while his people suffer, wishing him and President Hassan Rouhani death, as both of the are two sides of the same coin.

The city is governed by two of Khamenei top allies, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda and Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi. The latter had participated and lost in the last presidential elections as representative of the supreme leader’s camp and the hardline movement.

Instead of calming the crowd, Alamolhoda advises the authorities: “If the law-enforcement agencies do not punish the troublemakers, the enemies will publish tapes and pictures telling the world that the regime of the Islamic Republic has lost its revolutionary spirit in Mashhad.”

These slogans summarize the sentiments of the Iranian people about their regime’s foreign policies and their devastating repercussions on development, economy and society

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

A religious and conservative town

Other cities followed. Isfahan, the third largest city in Iran, after Tehran and Mashhad joined the ranks. Teachers and retirees came out demanding their salaries and money lost in the failing banks and projects. The city is also a religious and conservative town. Its support of the Khomeini revolution in the late seventies was a decisive factor in its victory. Tens of thousands of their sons were killed in the Iran-Iraq war.

One protester has lost four sons in Iraq, and a fifth in Syria. Instead of rewarding him, they took away his pension, he complains. Now, he cannot support what is left of his family. He is not alone, according to official statistics, 20 percent of the population is below poverty line and 40 percent of them need food aid, that is 60 percent of the 80 million Iranians.

Twenty millions live in shantytowns. Not to mention an inflation rate exceeding 20 percent, and a currency rapidly losing value. The result is a hike in rates of crime, drug addiction and prostitution.

The slogans raised in the demonstrations are telling: “Neither for Gaza, nor for Lebanon, my life is only for Iran,” “Forget Syria, remember us!,” “May your soul rest in peace, Reza Shah,” “freedom or death,” “Release political prisoners,” “Leaders live in paradise, people live in Hell,” “Death to Hezbollah.”

Sentiments of the people

These slogans summarize the sentiments of the Iranian people about their regime’s foreign policies and their devastating repercussions on development, economy and society. While austerity measures worsened an already tough life, the Syrian regime received $20 billion to kill its own people, and Hizbollah gets $1,200 billion a year to do the regime’s dirty business.

Not to mention other costly expenses to support militias in Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain. As a protester put it, “We give an Afghan, Pakistani or Arab terrorist up to $1500 a month, with accommodation, food and transportation, while I live in a shack, and my hard-earned income of $250 is delayed or stolen.

Few former Iranian leaders sided with their people. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has just revealed the existence of 63 bank accounts for the head of the judiciary Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani and the corruption of his brother Ali Larijani, the Parliament Speaker.

Others exposed the extent of criminality that reached the highest offices. Top bosses in ministries, banks, charities and religious institutions were found guilty of embezzlement, fraud, sexual harassment and child abuse. Worse, the leadership, including the Supreme Leader, has protected and defended the guilty and tried to hid their crimes.

If the large, industrial and commercial metropolitans groan, imagine the suffering in the remote and marginalized areas. The racist and sectarian regime has always ignored the mostly Sunni Kurdish, Baluchi, Kurdish, Azeri, Turkmen and Afghan communities. Shiite Arabs fared no better.

Over 60 towns have joined the rebellion, so far. Iran is awakening. Iranians are demanding their freedom, democracy and rights. They regretted supporting a revolution that turned against them. The world is watching, as it did in the spring of 2008. This time around it should interfere if the regime terrorizes its own people. Since they pretend to be a democracy, they should be held to its standards.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on January 2, 2018.
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Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi journalist and writer based in Jeddah.

New UN Security Council Resolution Strengthens Sanctions Against North Korea

December 1, 2016

New UN Security Council Resolution Strengthens Sanctions Against North Korea, Front Page MagazineJoseph Klein, December 1, 2016

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But Iran, freed of sanctions, is likely to be the spoiler.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2321 (2016) on November 30th. It condemns the North Korean (DPRK) regime’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles while its people continue to suffer under inhumane conditions. The resolution strengthens previous UN-imposed sanctions on the DPRK in response to its fifth nuclear test conducted on September 9, 2016.

The prior resolutions have failed to slow, much less eliminate, the DPRK’s nuclear program involving the development and testing of both nuclear device and ballistic missile capabilities. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon pointed out in his remarks to the Security Council following the vote, “The Council first adopted a resolution on the DPRK nuclear issue in 1993. Twenty-three years and six sanctions resolutions later, the challenge persists.”

The new resolution is intended to put more of a financial squeeze on the DPKR regime than ever before by closing loopholes and cutting the DPRK off from sources of hard currency that can be used to fund its nuclear bomb and ballistic missile programs.

Most notably, the new resolution places tighter restrictions on the DPRK’s export of coal. There will now be an absolute cap on how much coal the DPRK can export per year, closing a loophole that had allowed an exemption from any coal export limitations so long as the transactions were determined to be exclusively for “livelihood” purposes. Member states must report all transactions promptly to the 1718 DPRK Sanctions Committee, which is directed to monitor total volumes and notify states when the allowed quantities have been reached and all procurement of coal from the DPRK must end.

The binding export cap will potentially cut the DPRK’s largest export, coal, by approximately $700 million per year from 2015 (more than 60%). Considering the fact that China is the DPRK’s principal purchaser of coal, the new restrictions agreed to by China are significant if fully implemented.

In addition, the new resolution imposes further restrictions on the sale or transfer of copper and other non-ferrous metals. It also places a ban on the supply, sale or transfer from the DPRK of statues, which has proven to be a lucrative source of hard currency needed by the regime. The resolution contains travel bans and assets freezes directed to individuals and entities not previously listed for such punitive actions, who are determined to be involved in the development, production, and financing of the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, as well as the DPRK coal and conventional arms trade. There are more dual-use items, materials, equipment, goods and technology that will be subject to the embargo covering transfers to and from the DPRK.  Strict new sanctions on the DPRK’s illicit transportation activities are imposed.  Inspections of cargo transiting to and from the DPRK by rail, sea, air and road are to be expanded. And the new resolution contains further measures to isolate the DPRK from the global financial system and to prohibit financial support for trade with the DPRK in the form of export credits, guarantees, insurance and the like.

Resolution 2321 emphasizes, for the first time, a human rights dimension beyond the DPKR’s proliferation activities – the need for the DPRK to respect and ensure the inherent dignity of people in its territory. It also warns the DPRK that it is subject to being suspended from its UN rights and privileges.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, who led the negotiations of the text primarily with her Chinese counterpart, heralded the new resolution. She said it “imposes unprecedented costs on the DPRK regime for defying this Council’s demands.” She admitted, however, that “No resolution in New York will likely, tomorrow, persuade Pyongyang to cease its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Ambassador Power stressed that for the resolution to have any material impact on the DPRK’s behavior “all Member States of this United Nations must fully implement the sanctions that we have adopted today.” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, while lauding the new resolution for including “the toughest and most comprehensive sanctions regime ever imposed by the Security Council,” reinforced Ambassador Power’s admonition. He warned that “sanctions are only as effective as their implementation. It is incumbent on all Member States of the United Nations to make every effort to ensure that these sanctions are fully implemented.”

The problem with such an expectation for full implementation by all member states is Iran, which is known to have a tight collaborative relationship with the DPRK to bolster both countries’ nuclear weapons and missile programs. Iran has flouted UN Security Council resolutions in the past aimed at its own nuclear program. And despite the nuclear deal under which Iran is expected to curtail its nuclear program, it is continuing the testing and development of ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear weapons. When I raised the concern about Iran’s relationship with the DPRK to Ambassador Power after she delivered some brief remarks to the press, she refused to answer my question and walked away. It is not surprising in this case why she ducked my question. The concessions President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry made in order to reach agreement with Iran on the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) have provided a huge loophole for Iran and the DPRK to exploit together.

More specifically, the JCPOA contains a long “Specially Designated Nationals” list of individuals and entities that will no longer be subject to previously instituted nuclear-related sanctions. This delisting includes entities involved in supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program, which Iran is now arguably freer to pursue thanks to other concessions offered by Obama and Kerry.

One of the entities removed from both the UN and U.S. sanctions lists is Bank Sepah, a large Iranian state-owned financial institution. Bank Sepah had been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department back in 2007 for “facilitating Iran’s weapons program” and providing “support and services to designated Iranian proliferation firms.”   The bank had also been listed as an entity “involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities” in UN Security Council Resolution 1747.

In addition to supporting Iran’s own missile program, Bank Sepah has also been involved, according to the U.S. Treasury Department, in transferring large sums of money from Iran’s Aerospace Industries Organization to a North Korean firm associated with the Korea Mining Development Trading Bureau (KOMID), “a North Korean entity designated for providing Iran with missile technology.”

The DPRK’s Tanchon Commercial Bank, which has been designated by the US and the UN Security Council for sanctions due to its suspected proliferation-related activities, has served as the financial arm for KOMID.  “Since 2005,” according to a statement issued several years ago by the Treasury Department, “Tanchon has maintained an active relationship with various branches of Iran’s Bank Sepah…the U.S. has reason to believe that the Tanchon-Bank Sepah relationship has been used for North Korea-Iran proliferation-related transactions.”

Bank Sepah now is no longer hobbled by sanctions as a result of the JCPOA and a follow-up Security Council resolution endorsing the JCPOA and terminating the previous UN sanctions resolutions against Iran. This means not only more funding for Iran’s missile program, which Iran is continuing to pursue without any consequences. It also means a potential source of hard currency for North Korea’s nuclear program – precisely the opposite of what Ambassador Power said was the intent of the new DPRK Security Council sanctions resolution. And this is only scratching the surface of how the unfreezing of billions of dollars of Iranian assets and removal of sanctions on Iranian entities involved in nuclear-related activities, which have had ties with North Korean entities involved in nuclear-related activities, will help accelerate the nuclear weapons and missile programs of both rogue regimes.

In short, for the Obama administration, “The one hand giveth; the other hand taketh away.” Hopefully, the new Trump administration will do a better job in connecting the dots in the dangerous collaborative relationship between Iran and the DPKR and undo the damage the Iran nuclear deal is likely to do in helping to further that relationship.