The Place Vendome, in Paris, is one of the most elegant, rarified bastions of wealth and privilege in the world. The square, just two blocks from the manicured glorious park known as the Tuileries Gardens, is the comfortable home to a variety of financial and designer firms, as well as the venerable hotel Ritz.
The Ritz is one of the most expensive and luxurious hotels in the world; its guests have included kings and queens, statesman such as Winston Churchill, and celebrities too numerous to count. Indeed, it was while walking to her car outside the Ritz that Princess Diana was last photographed before taking the fateful ride that ended her life. All in all, one would be hard put to find a more exquisite symbol of wealthy and civilized commerce anywhere than the discreet colonnades of Place Vendome.
But just to the right of the Ritz (where the average rate for a room is $1,479 a night!) there is an unassuming awning inscribed with the words “Bank Sepah.” When I saw it, I knew it rang a bell.
Just days before, I had been reporting in front of the United Nations on the latest resolution (number three and counting) that the Security Council had imposed on Iran, in a continuing and unsuccessful attempt to stop the country’s disputed nuclear program. Resolution #1747, Annex I, paragraph 8 slaps sanctions on that very bank nestled amid the luxury of Place Vendome:
“Entities involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities.
Bank Sepah and Bank Sepah International (Bank Sepah provides support for the Aerospace Industries Organisation (AIO) and subordinates, included Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group (SHIG) and Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group (SBIG), both of which were designated under resolution 1737 (2006).”
The financial backing for Iran’s nuclear program is run out of a state bank that remains untouched and open in the heart of Paris. Even the bank’s chairman and managing director, Ahmad Derakhshandeh, is cited by the U.N. resolution as being one of the people “involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities.” He is one of the 15 people newly added by the Security Council, including leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, whose foreign assets were ordered frozen.
So why isn’t the bank, owned by the Iranian state, boarded up?
Other branches of Bank Sepah in Rome, Frankfurt, and London similarly continue to accept deposits; they are humming along quite nicely in the nations that are members of the Security Council (France, Italy, Great Britain.) In Germany, which has been also actively involved in the Iranian sanctions issue, Bank Sepah is also open for business. So why hasn’t the sheriff shown up with the padlock?
Economic sanctions — a.k.a. “going after the money” — seem to have convinced North Korea to cooperate in its U.N. nuclear showdown. The U.S. Treasury Department froze the assets of what The Wall Street Journal admits is “a little bank in Macau.” Denying Pyongyang the relatively meager $25 million that Kim Jong Il had stashed in the Banco Delta Asia seems to have been enough to bring the regime back to the table. Of course, it was the Bush administration, not the Security Council, who initiated targeting North Korea’s financial infrastructure. Dare we hope that the Council will follow our lead and freeze Iran’s assets?
“Bank Sepah is a state-owned bank in Iran that we believe is the prime financier of the Iranian missile procurement program,” Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmet told FOX News. “The U.S. recently took action against Bank Sepah, cutting off its ability to do any transactions with banks in the United States because of its involvement in the missile technology acquisition program — not just in Iran, but through branches that operate through the world, most notably through the Bank Sepah branch in Rome.”
Kimmet told us that the Council’s targeting of the bank shows “they are going right at the heart of the illicit procurement network that is supporting the Iranian proliferation program.” It remains to be seen if zeroing in on Bank Sepah will alter Iran’s behavior, but it’s a start that surely would be reinforced if its everyday activities were shut down until Iran complies with Security Council demands.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to spout defiance. Each time he opens his mouth, I remember a day in February of 1992, in Indianapolis, when I listened as another guilty party was called on the carpet. It was during the rape trial of boxer Mike Tyson, and the slow, mid-Western drawl of prosecutor Greg Garrsion stopped the defense cold. As he was summing up his case to the jury, Garrsion looked directly at Tyson’s defense team and coolly told the rapt jurors, “When they start screaming like squashed cats, you know we’ve got something.”
Ahmadinejad screams like a squashed cat almost on a daily basis. The U.N’s move on Bank Sepah tightens the international community’s grip on Iran’s tail. Either Iran will slip out of the Security Council noose, or one hopes, if economic pressures prove too stressful, it will finally heed its wishes. We will know more come May 23, when the Council’s 60-day deadline for Iranian cooperation expires. Then, look for the diplomats to start negotiations on Resolution number four amid the unending bluster and high pitched squealing of the Iranian “squashed cat.”E-mail Eric Shawn
Eric Shawn, a New York based senior correspondent for FOX News Channel, and the author of The U.N. Exposed: How the United Nations Sabotages America's Security and Fails the World. You can read his complete bio here.