Security and global affairs

AFTER SUCCESS ON IRAN, U.S. TREASURY’S SANCTIONS TEAM FACES NEW CHALLENGES

Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Director Adam Szubin and his staff meet at the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington March 26, 2014. Before discussing possible next steps against Russia over its annexation of Crimea, Szubin thanked his team for putting in a string of sleepless nights to devise sanctions against senior Russian officials and associates of President Vladimir Putin. Picture taken March 26, 2014. To match Insight USA-SANCTIONS/ REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS POLITICS)
REUTERS/Gary Cameron

This is what the modern American war room looks like: the clocks on the wall show the times in Kabul, Tehran and Bogota. The faces around the conference table are mostly young. There is talk of targets, and of middle-of-the-night calls to Europe.

But the meeting one recent morning convened deep within the Treasury Department, not the Pentagon. The weapons at hand were not drones or cruise missiles, but financial sanctions, aimed with similar precision at U.S. rivals’ economic interests. …

“We’re going to be looked to … in the days and weeks to come, to continue to deliver,” (Adam) Szubin, 41, told about 30 staff members gathered over a modest celebration of Starbucks coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

U.S. SANCTIONS NET SNARES THE INNOCENT, BURDENS BUSINESS

REUTERS/Mike Stone
REUTERS/Mike Stone

On a Friday afternoon in March, Jose Luis Zamora pulled into a Lexus dealership in Dallas to test-drive a new car with his wife. Ready to pay, Zamora instead waited more than two hours before being informed his name had popped up on a government watchlist that blocks those linked to money launderers, groups alleged to have committed terrorist acts and other enemies of the United States from doing business in the country.

A routine credit check matched him to Jose Hernan Zamora, a Colombian who is no relation to the Texas resident and was added to the Treasury Department’s sanctions list around 1997 for his ties to narcotics traffickers.

Zamora, of Dallas, had never been to Colombia. It took him two days of digging, phone calls to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security, and letters to his elected representatives to learn he was far from the only one who has been accidentally snared.

WORLD BANK, U.N. JOIN HANDS IN CONFLICT ZONES BUT FACE HURDLES

When the heads of the World Bank and the United Nations flew into the violence-wracked African city of Goma on a cloudy day last month, it was the first time the giants of international development had joined forces in the struggle to help the world’s most fragile regions. …

The organizations admit the effort to work together faces hurdles. Both have vast, unwieldy bureaucracies that have historically competed with each other, and the bank had been wary of loaning to fragile states with shaky governments and murky institutions. Further, development analysts warn that no one has yet figured out a surefire way to bring lasting development to countries caught in cycles of violence.

But with half the world’s poorest people set to live in conflict-torn regions by 2018, the institutions can ill afford to do nothing.

U.S. URGES IMF TO CANCEL DEBT OF EBOLA-STRICKEN COUNTRIES

The United States on Tuesday proposed that the International Monetary Fund write off some $100 million in debt it is owed by Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to free up more resources for those countries, the hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak.

The debt relief should enable the three impoverished West African countries to spend more on government services and to support their economies as they cope with the devastating epidemic, U.S. Treasury officials told Reuters.

SANCTIONS-SCARRED BANKS MAY HOLD BACK IRAN’S ECONOMIC RELIEF

Major banks wary of heavy U.S. penalties will be reluctant to restore ties with Iran even if sanctions are lifted in a possible nuclear deal, bank executives and advisers say, likely denting Iran’s ambition to attract foreign investment to revive its crippled economy.

After years of being frozen out of the global banking system and most trade with the West, Iran is eager for sanctions to be lifted so it can draw in foreign companies and attract investment to upgrade its long-neglected energy sector. Yet without more bank financing and a means of transferring funds in and out of Iran, that commercial potential could remain largely untapped, stunting hopes for a post-agreement investment boom.