Greece has defied the European Union and the United States by blocking EU sanctions on Iranian bank Saderat that the U.S. accuses of financing terrorism, says a Wall Street Journal report.
According to the report, Athens’ action marked the first time a European country has picked apart the sanctions regime meant to remain in place following the July 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran. The sanctions aimed at constraining Iran‘s ability to resume illicit activities and pressure it to stick by the agreement.
The explanation given for Greece’s move is that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is trying to create new energy deals with Iran for cheap oil. Saderat is a partly state-owned bank.
According to the report, U.S. analysts say that Greece’s relief of sanctions to Iran may mark a broader decay of European sanctions on Iran.
In 2007, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Saderat as a terrorist financier for allegedly channeling money to Hezbollah, Hamas and other Palestinian groups Washington considers terrorist.
In 2010, The United Nations sanctioned the bank for its involvement in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic-missiles program, a move the EU matched in 2010.
In July 2015, a multinational nuclear deal with Iran lifted most financial sanctions on Tehran, but Saderat was one of just three banks kept on the EU’s sanctions list for as long as eight years. Washington kept the sanctions indefinitely for terror financing.
In April, the EU’s top court upheld the bank’s challenge to the EU sanctions, arguing the 28-nation bloc had provided insufficient evidence that Saderat was carrying out illicit activities. The court allowed the EU to maintain the asset freeze for six months under an amended charge, a period that ended on October 22.
While the remaining EU member states agreed to extend the sanctions on Saderat Bank, Greece was the only country opposing.
“There is an EU court decision and it should be respected,” a senior Greek foreign-ministry official told the Wall Street Journal.
“There were very firm instructions from Athens to block it,” another Greek official said.
The move is potentially risky for Greece, the report says, in light of the upcoming visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Athens. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned last year that any firm that deals with Bank Saderat “will risk losing its access to the U.S. financial system.”