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Zarif Says Seven European Central Banks Will Assist Trade With Iran

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (left) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attend a ministerial meeting of the P5+1 countries and Iran held on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says seven European central banks have agreed to create a special payment system between EU and his country to guarantee business and trade between the two sides sides in the face of U.S. sanctions.

In an interview with Iran’s state TV and radio news agency on Friday, September 28, Zarif promised that the new channel will be created soon and it will ultimately lead to the establishment of a new institution. He did not name the seven countries involved.

The establishment of the new institution however will take longer, he said and added that the new payment system will not use the U.S. dollar and will be based on the euro.

The special arrangement mentioned by Zarif seems to be what earlier in the week was announced by the EU, as a special payment system to facilitate trade.

Infographic: Mechanism Of EU's Special Purpose Vehicle
Infographic: Mechanism Of EU's Special Purpose Vehicle

Following the withdrawal of the United States from the landmark 2015 nuclear accord and the reimposition of nuclear-related sanctions, Iran and the EU scramble to find ways to save the agreement. Despite their efforts, many European companies, including the oil giant Total, and car manufacturers such as German Daimler have stopped business with Iran.

As the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini announced, this special financial channel was not limited to Europe, but all other countries and companies that had financial transactions with Iran, could use it to maintain their business Zarif said in his interview on Friday.

Representatives of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran issued a statement on Monday announcing the creation of a "Special Purpose Vehicle" (SVP) that will be established in the European Union in order to facilitate payments related to Iranian exports, including oil.

After the deal was announced, Federica Mogherini told reporters that the SPV gives EU member states "a legal entity to facilitate legitimate financial transactions with Iran and allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran in accordance to EU law and could be open to other partners in the world."

Mogherini said the financial agreement is aimed at preserving the nuclear deal with Iran to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for relief from strict economic sanctions.

“The proposed SPV would essentially act as an accounting firm, tracking credits against imports and exports without the involvement of European commercial or central banks”, writes Samantha Sultoon, a former Treasury official with the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.

“For example, Iran could ship crude oil to a French firm, accumulating credit that could then be used to pay an Italian manufacturer for goods shipped the other way —without any funds traversing through Iranian hands. By using credits instead of cash, the SPV would not require any funds to transfer outside of the European Union”, Ms. Sultoon says.

However, many experts doubt that the plan would work, not only because international companies would not join the effort, but also the US government has always the possibility to expand the scope of the sanctions and undermine the new initiative.

“They may be able to find some small or medium-size companies that have negligible supply chain or customer exposure to the U.S. and would suffer less from being sanctioned, but the universe of companies willing to [do that] is very small,” David Murray, a vice president at the consultancy Financial Integrity Network, who previously worked at the U.S. Treasury Department on sanctions and other issues told Wall Street Journal.