US urges Turkey to be vigilant in its dealings with Iranian banks

ANKARA (AP) – A US Treasury Department official urged Turkey on Monday to be vigilant in its financial dealings with Iran, which Washington accuses of bankrolling terror and seeking nuclear missiles. Stuart A. Levey, the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, called on Turkey to scrutinize actions by three Turkish branches of Iran’s state-owned Bank Mellat. US officials say Bank Mellat serves Iran’s state Atomic Energy Organization, which they allege is attempting to build nuclear weapons. «Iran uses its banks for its missile programs in particular,» he said in reference to Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran denies the allegations, and insists the nuclear program is solely for the peaceful purpose of generating electricity. Levey said that, as Iran has been cut off from larger banks in Europe, it is looking for alternative outlets to the international finance system. Turkey’s proximity to Iran, shared history and ties between their people make Turkey a place where «there is need for vigilance,» Levey said. «It is essential to share information to discuss risks… and vigilance that is required in order to make sure that Turkey’s financial institutions are not abused by Iranian financial institutions and Iranian state-owned banks,» he said. Levey said Iranian financial institutions were asking banks or institutions it dealt with to remove names of Iranian companies on transactions. «This kind of deceptive conduct» has led a number of major financial institutions around the world to «either cut off business with Iran entirely or scale it back dramatically,» he said. The United Nations sanctions last year banned dealings with Bank Mellat along with another Iranian bank, Bank Melli, adding them to a list of already banned banks. That made it more difficult for the banks to turn to European banks for dollars. In October, as part of sweeping US sanctions against Iran, state-owned Bank Melli, Bank Mellat and Bank Saderat were named supporters of global terrorist groups for their activities in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East. Along with Bank Sepah, which already was under US and UN sanctions, the institutions account for more than 50 percent of Iran’s banking sector, US Treasury officials have said.