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Global Watchdog Places Iran On Terrorism Financing Blacklist

FILE - The first FATF Plenary meeting under the US Presidency in Paris. October 19, 2018.
PARIS, Feb 21 (Reuters) -

A global dirty money watchdog on Friday placed Iran on its blacklist after the country failed to comply with international anti-terrorism financing norms.

The decision comes after more than three years of warnings from the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) urging Tehran to enact terrorist financing conventions.

However, the FATF appeared to leave the door ajar for Iran saying “countries should also be able to apply countermeasures independently of any call by the FATF to do so.”

It will mean more scrutiny of transactions with Iran, tougher external auditing of financing firms operating in the country and add pressure on the few banks and businesses still operating with Iran.

Foreign businesses say Iran's compliance with FATF rules is key if Tehran wants to attract investors, especially since the United States re-imposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and other world powers.

Washington has since pushed a policy of "maximum pressure", saying a broader deal should be negotiated on nuclear issues, Iran's missile programme and Iranian activities in the Middle East.

France, Britain and Germany have tried to salvage the deal, but have faced growing pressure from the United States to join its efforts against Iran.

"The United States was pushing for the toughest position, while other countries like China and Russia preferred something more flexible," a European official told Reuters earlier. "The Europeans were looking for something in between."

U.S. sanctions have crippled Iran's economy, slashing its oil exports and increasingly isolating it from the international financial system.

Iran's leaders have been divided over complying with the FATF. Supporters say it could ease foreign trade with Europe and Asia when the country's economy is targeted by U.S. penalties aimed at its isolation.

Hardline opponents argue that passing legislation toward joining the FATF could hamper Iran's support for its allies, including Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Iran's action plan to meet with the FATF requirements, implemented in 2016, expired in January 2018.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif this week appeared resigned to the FATF blacklisting, accusing the United States using its maximum pressure campaign to exert influence at the FATF.