By Olivier Knox and Laura Rozen
Even as Iran has signaled its readiness to return to international nuclear talks in a letter this week, the United States announced new sanctions on Iran Thursday.
The Treasury Department announced Thursday it is sanctioning Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security [MOIS], accusing it of sponsoring human rights abuses in both Iran and Syria, as well as being a sponsor of terrorism.
"Today we have designated the MOIS for abusing the basic human rights of Iranian citizens and exporting its vicious practices to support the Syrian regime's abhorrent crackdown on its own population," Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said in a Treasury Department press release Thursday. "The action came as key Washington lawmakers pressed for additional measures to further cut the Islamic republic off from the global financial network.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), a member of the Senate Banking committee, said Thursday he will meet in Washington next week with the general counsel of the Brussels-based SWIFT network to discuss cutting off Iranian banks from the financial clearinghouse.
The Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) handles most international financial transactions between banks. Severing ties with Iranian banks could make it difficult for the government to sell oil, which is a huge source of its funding.
"I am looking forward to meeting with the general counsel of SWIFT next week," Menendez said in a call with journalists Thursday. "And I would like it to take action to expel EU-designated Iranian banks from SWIFT and in the longer term, [to cut off transactions] with the Central Bank of Iran."
The goal of the SWIFT action "would be, at the end of the day, to create further challenges for Iranian transactions," Menendez said.
Mark Dubowitz, an Iran sanctions expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, weighed in on the result: "If it happens, the removal of these Iranian banks from the SWIFT system is a political and economic body blow to the Iranian regime," he said. "It is the financial equivalent of being expelled from the United Nations."
--Olivier Knox is White House reporter for Yahoo News. Laura Rozen is foreign policy reporter for Yahoo News.
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