WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In a departure from usual policy, a senior U.S. Treasury official met Iranian representatives in Paris last month as part of a multinational gathering to discuss “terror financing,” said U.S. officials on Friday.
Senior Treasury Department official Daniel Glaser was given permission by the Bush administration to attend the January 24 meeting, as required by U.S. policy because contacts with Iran are usually forbidden, said a senior official, who spoke on condition he not be named.
Glaser, who is the Treasury Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, co-chaired with Italy a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting to discuss money laundering and how to crack down on the financing of terrorism.
“To my knowledge, they did not have one-on-one meetings (with the Iranians),” said the senior U.S. official. “It was something agreed within the U.S. government that Glaser could attend,” he added.
The Treasury Department said the meeting was initiated by the task force, a 34-nation grouping whose purpose is to fight money laundering and terrorist financing. Iran is not a member of the group.
“There was nothing secretive about this meeting. It was a multilateral FATF meeting, initiated by FATF not Iran, and Treasury attended in its capacity as co-chair of a FATF working group,” said Treasury Department spokesman Andrew DeSouza.
Nearly a dozen other countries attended the meeting, said DeSouza.
“(The meeting was) part of an ongoing effort to address the significant threat Iran poses to the integrity of the international financial system,” he added.
Last October, the task force said it was concerned over Iran’s “lack of a comprehensive anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism regime” and urged Iran to tackle this problem on an “urgent basis.”
The United States has imposed its own sanctions against Iranian banks and groups for suspected financing of terrorism. In October, Washington designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and imposed sanctions on its elite Qods force.
The United States, which is at loggerheads with Tehran over its nuclear program and other issues, does not have diplomatic ties with Iran and meetings such as those in Paris are rare.
The United States is pushing for a third round of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at building an atomic bomb and Tehran says is for peaceful power generation.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chastised her ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, for joining a panel discussion with Iran’s foreign minister in Davos, Switzerland last month, without first getting permission to attend.
One exception has been discussions with Iran over Iraq, where Washington accuses Tehran of stoking up violence. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has held several rounds of discussions in recent months with his Iranian counterpart to discuss Iraq.
There has been no significant dialogue between the two nations since the United States introduced sanctions after the storming and occupation of its embassy in Tehran by revolutionary students in November 1979.