The European Union (EU) decided on Thursday to prohibit access to the international payments system by Iranian institutions as part of financial sanctions due to Tehran's nuclear program. The EU sanctions currently affect 116 individuals and 442 companies, including the Central Bank of Iran. They aim to dry funding sources of the regime, accused by the West of seeking to develop atomic bombs under cover of civilian nuclear activities.
The EU has "decided to ban the provision of specialized financial transferring services to Iranian individuals and entities subject to an assets freeze", said a statement released Thursday.
A European official said on condition of anonymity that the decision, unanimously approved by the 27 members would primarily affect payments through SWIFT, which allows the financial sector to conduct its transactions worldwide.
Swift confirmed in a statement of "being ordered to suspend its communications services in the direction of Iranian financial institutions covered by the EU sanctions."
The EU decision was to be formalized on Friday. "Swift was forced to act," said Swift president, Lazaro Campos, who stressed that stopping its services to banks constituted "an exceptional and unprecedented act on the part of Swift."
The United States "welcome the European decision", said Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary in charge of counter-terrorism and financial intelligence, David Cohen, in a statement issued in Washington.
"The United States will continue to work closely with Europeans and other partners within the international community to further increase the pressure on Iran and reinforce the U.S. sanctions against this country," he said.