Top US Treasury official to visit Middle East countries to ensure sanction compliance

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The US Treasury Department’s top sanctions official on a trip to the Middle East next week will warn countries and businesses that they could lose US market access if they do business with entities subject to US curbs as Washington cracks down on Russian attempts to evade sanctions imposed over its war in Ukraine.

Brian Nelson, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, will travel to Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey from January 29 to February 3 and meet with government officials as well as businesses and financial institutions to reiterate Washington’s sanctions policy and compliance, a Treasury spokesperson told Reuters.

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“Individuals and institutions operating in permissive jurisdictions risk potentially losing access to US markets on account of doing business with sanctioned entities or not conducting appropriate due diligence,” the spokesperson said.

While in the region, Nelson will discuss Treasury’s efforts to crack down on Russian efforts to evade sanctions and export controls imposed over its brutal war against Ukraine, Iran’s destabilizing activity in the region, illicit finance risks undermining economic growth, and foreign investment.

The trip marks the latest visit to Turkey by a senior Treasury official to discuss sanctions, following a string of warnings last year by Treasury and Commerce Department officials, as Washington ramped up pressure on Ankara to ensure enforcement of US curbs on Russia.

Strained relations

Nelson’s trip coincides with a period of strained ties between the United States and Turkey as the two NATO allies disagree over a host of issues.

Most recently, Turkey’s refusal to green-light the NATO bids of Sweden and Finland has troubled Washington, while Ankara is frustrated that its request to buy F-16 fighter jets is increasingly linked to whether the two Nordic countries can join the alliance.

Nelson will visit Ankara, the Turkish capital, and financial hub Istanbul on February 2-3. He will warn businesses and banks that they should avoid transactions related to potential dual-use technology transfers, which could ultimately be used by Russia’s military, the spokesperson said.

Dual-use items can have both commercial and military applications.

Washington and its allies have imposed several rounds of sanctions targeting Moscow since the invasion, which has killed and wounded thousands and reduced Ukrainian cities to rubble.

Turkey has condemned Russia’s invasion and sent armed drones to Ukraine. At the same time, it opposes Western sanctions on Russia and has close ties with both Moscow and Kyiv, its Black Sea neighbors.

It has also ramped up trade and tourism with Russia. Some Turkish firms have purchased or sought to buy Russian assets from Western partners pulling back due to the sanctions, while others maintain large assets in the country.

But Ankara has pledged that international sanctions will not be circumvented in Turkey.

Washington is also concerned about evasion of US sanctions on Iran.

The United States last month imposed sanctions on prominent Turkish businessman Sitki Ayan and his network of firms, accusing him of acting as a facilitator for oil sales and money laundering on behalf of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

While in the United Arab Emirates, Nelson will examine compliance to sanctions, the spokesperson said.

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