The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned nine targets last week related to an illicit oil network between Iran and Russia.
“We are acting against a complex scheme Iran and Russia have used to bolster the [Bashar] Assad regime and generate funds for Iranian malign activity,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “Central Bank of Iran officials continue to exploit the international financial system, and in this case even used a company whose name suggests a trade in humanitarian goods as a tool to facilitate financial transfers supporting this oil scheme.
“The United States is committed to imposing a financial toll on Iran, Russia and others for their efforts to solidify Assad’s authoritarian rule, as well as disrupt the Iranian regime’s funding of terrorist organizations,” he added.
Experts said this move was crucial in combating the Iranian threat.
“The scheme uncovered by the Treasury Department shows just how closely Iran and Russia are cooperating to not only help prop up the Assad regime financially, but to help finance the leading players in Iran’s global terrorism,” said Boris Zilberman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “So when Russia talks about cooperating with the United States to counter-terrorism this is empty rhetoric plain and simple.”
“As this scheme shows, Russia works hand in hand with some of the very terror groups we seek to counter,” he continued. “Russia is not a partner in our counter-terrorism efforts, but is, in fact, an adversary.”
“There are already sanctions on Russian arms exporters, but the United States should continue to uncover and sanction schemes such as this,” added Zilberman. “The administration could also consider, in conjunction with Israel, striking destabilizing arms transfers by Hezbollah.
“It’s an important step, and highlights just how much [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has supported Iran, Hezbollah and Assad, and how committed he is, despite hopes that Putin’s partnership with Iran is skin-deep short-lived,” according to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Anna Borshchevskaya.
“Hard to tell if this pressure will succeed without being incorporated into a broader strategy,” she continued. “It comes as no surprise that the Kremlin said earlier this month it will continue to help Iran trade oil. It’s possible to imagine Moscow setting up another intermediary to continue shipping oil to the Syrian regime, but nonetheless, this is an important step.”
The State Department joined Treasury in sending a message to the Islamic Republic.
“The sanctions levied today directly target the Iranian regime’s exploitation of the international financial system to hide revenue streams it uses to fund terrorist activity, provide support for sectarian militias responsible for abuses against civilian populations and destabilize the region,” said the department in a statement. “The Iranian regime, Iranian-commanded forces inside Syria and the proxy terrorist groups it supports such as those targeted today continue to foment instability to extend their malign influence. These actions by the Iranian and Assad regimes undermine the legitimate processes to resolve the conflict in Syria.”
This development preceded Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blasting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Monday for calling Israel a “cancerous tumor” and a “fake regime.”
“This is a dangerous and irresponsible step that will further deepen Iran’s isolation,” warned Pompeo.
“The Iranian regime is no friend of America or Israel when they repeatedly call for the death of millions, including Muslims,” he added. “The Iranian people know better and do not agree with their government, which has badly represented them to the world for 39 years. The people have suffered under this tyranny for far too long.”