Dubai bank cuts off business with Iranian lenders

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By ADAM SCHRECK, Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Dubai Islamic bank with ties to the emirate's ruling family said Wednesday it stopped doing business with Iranian banks in December, shortly before the United States approved new sanctions targeting the country's financial system.

The decision by Noor Islamic Bank cuts off yet another of Iran's links to the international banking system. Noor appears to have acted, at least indirectly, in response to Washington's efforts to tighten the screws on Tehran.

"When we became aware in December, 2011, that unilateral U.S. sanctions were to be applied against a number of Iranian banks, we took pre-emptive action to end our business relationships with Iranian banks licensed in the UAE," the Dubai bank said.

The Iranian economy is under increasing pressure from a series of U.S. and European sanctions aimed at thwarting its nuclear program. Washington and its allies fear Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran insists the program is for peaceful purposes.

Dubai, just across the Gulf from Iran, is a major Middle East banking and commercial hub and an important trading center for Iranian merchants. It is one of seven semiautonomous sheikdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates, a key U.S. ally in the Gulf.

A Noor spokesman declined to say how much business it had been doing with the Islamic Republic. The bank says it complies "with all UAE Central Bank and UAE government directives and international regulations, including those emanating from the UN, regarding sanctions on Iran."

A report Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal quoting unnamed officials suggested the bank had emerged as the largest handler of Iran's foreign oil receipts after other financial institutions stopped doing business with the country.

At the end of 2011, President Barack Obama signed into law a new set of sanctions that would penalize foreign financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank, though they provide an exception for the handling of oil payments. Days later, the value of the Iranian riyal plunged against the dollar.

Noor was set up in 2007 and operates according to Islamic law, which generally prohibits the charging of interest. Dubai's ruler last year appointed one of his sons, Sheikh Ahmed Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, as the bank's chairman.

The U.S. Treasury Department would not comment on whether it planned to take action against Noor, but an official said the U.S. has worked closely with the UAE over the past several months as part of Washington's broader effort to implement sanctions.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of agency restrictions, said the UAE has expressed support for greater sanctions to pressure Iran.

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Associated Press writer Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.

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