SWIFT action on Iran sanctions


A new draft bill approved by voice vote by the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday will expand on Iran sanctions already in place through previous legislation.

The key for the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012 will be to close loopholes that Iran is using to skirt existing sanctions laws.

One important provision included in the legislation is an amendment sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) that would place sanctions on banks that have officers on the board of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) if SWIFT continues to process financial transactions for Iranian banks.

SWIFT is responsible for processing electronic bank transfers and serves as the final entry point for Iran into the global financial system.


The SWIFT amendment was the subject of a recent article in Foreign Policy by Mark Dubowitz and Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in which they wrote that sanctioning SWIFT could have "far-reaching ramifications."

A senior Republican aide familiar with sanctions laws told me that "while the United States and Europe have effectively denied Iranian banks access to Western markets, Iranian access to the SWIFT system remains a glaring loophole in our sanctions law. A bank that finances terror or proliferation should not be allowed to move money freely around the world. SWIFT should do the right thing and expel designated Iranian banks — if the group does not act, their directors and shareholders will not like the consequences."

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced legislation Thursday that would go after SWIFT for its facilitation of Iranian transactions.

Other new provisions included in the Senate legislation would target companies that knowingly participate in joint energy ventures between Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which would involve the mining, production or transportation of uranium throughout the world, as well as sanctions against individuals or entities that assist Iran in violating human rights.

In addition, Menendez and Kirk sponsored an amendment that would target Iranian senior leaders and place immigration restrictions on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian government officials.

A Democratic aide familiar with the process told me that the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act is "the latest piece of legislation in the bipartisan message to Iran and its supporters that ‘you can either do business with the Iranian regime or you can do business with the United States of America’ until Iran gives up its reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons."

The aide went on to further state that "every time that a new sanctions bill is passed, the noose gets tighter around the neck of the Iranian economy. I only hope that this convinces Iran’s leaders to do what’s best for the Iranian people and give up their pursuit of nuclear weapons."

United Against a Nuclear Iran released a statement applauding the Senate Banking Committee’s passage of the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act of 2012.

In the statement, UANI notes that it sent a detailed letter to SWIFT on Jan. 30 outlining how the entity was in violation of U.S. and European Union sanctions with its processing of Iranian transactions.

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