Editorial: Time to Sanction Iran’s Central Bank

While the international community has been preoccupied with the dramatic events unfolding in the Arab world this past year, Iran has pressed ahead with its illicit nuclear program. Tehran is nearing a tipping point in its quest for a nuclear weapons capability, according to information in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) September report. The report indicates that Iran has begun installation of advanced centrifuges that will quicken the process of enriching uranium, potentially enabling the country to produce its first atomic bomb in the first half of 2012.

The revelation earlier this month that Iran was behind a terrorist plot on U.S. soil serves as a reminder why it cannot be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapons capability. Such a capability would embolden the Islamic Republic to act more aggressively in its support for terror and enable it to threaten international security and stability with impunity.

The Justice Department has charged two Iranians with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States. The scheme was directed and approved by elements of the Iranian regime, in particular high-level members of the Quds Force, which carries out much of the regime’s terrorist activities around the world. Iran must be held accountable for violating international norms in such a flagrant manner and deterred from pursuing further actions of this sort.

A key component of Tehran’s sponsorship of terrorism worldwide is the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), also known as Bank Markazi. The CBI provides Iran access to the international financial system, allowing it to finance weapons proliferation and terrorism. The CBI also enables Iran to purchase materials needed for its illicit nuclear program despite global scrutiny and multiple rounds of U.N. and U.S. sanctions. Using the CBI to conduct the bulk of its international business transactions, the Islamic Republic is able to circumvent existing sanctions on its other banks.

Sanctions on the CBI would be the most effective way to signal international censure of Iran’s actions and persuade Tehran to desist from such actions. The United States should take the lead in imposing sanctions, just as it was at the forefront of measures against the brutal regimes in Libya and Syria. These sanctions would force international banks to choose between continuing to do business with the CBI or the United States. They would further isolate Iran and its financial system, which is central not only to Iran’s support for terrorism but also its nuclear efforts.

In the Iran Sanctions Act passed last year, Congress urged the President to impose sanctions on the CBI. This past August, 92 senators wrote a letter to President Obama calling on him to sanction the CBI. While the administration has said that it is considering such a measure, waiting any longer would send Tehran the message that its dangerous behavior is tolerated and bears no consequences. Furthermore, had proper international sanctions been in place, the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington might never have gotten off the ground. No bank would have been able to transfer the payment from Iran to kill the ambassador.

The administration has blacklisted dozens of Iranian banks for providing financial services to Tehran’s nuclear programs and its terrorist proxies around the world. In the wake of Iran’s continued belligerence and refusal to adhere to international demands, the time has come to impose similar measures on the CBI. BACK TO TOP