Responding to a complaint by Syria’s U.N. envoy, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations said on Friday it was working to ensure that foreign diplomatic missions whose accounts have been closed by U.S. banks are able to get new ones.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said on Thursday that his mission was unable to open a U.S. bank account due to sanctions imposed on his country because of its 14-month assault on an opposition determined to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The U.S. Mission would not confirm that Syria’s accounts had been closed, but made clear there were a number of countries whose missions’ accounts had been closed by private U.S. banks.
It also suggested that the closures were not related to any sanctions the United States, European Union and others have imposed on Damascus.
“Over the last two years, several U.S. banks have decided to close all or some of their diplomatic mission banking business and a number of foreign missions in the U.S. have been affected,” said Payton Knopf, a spokesman for the U.S. mission.
“We recognize the impact of these closures,” he said. “Given our obligations as host country of the U.N., we are working with the affected missions, relevant U.S. agencies, and the private sector to find a way to ensure as soon as possible that these foreign missions have access to the customary banking services.”
Last year, several U.S. banks suddenly began closing accounts of foreign missions and diplomats due to the high costs of monitoring financial activity to prevent money laundering and monetary support for terrorist activity.
The United Nations said that if needed it would help countries having difficulties banking in the United States.
“It is obvious that the secretariat of the United Nations here in New York where possible can help, either behind the scenes of otherwise, and that has happened in the past,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
“The primary responsibility of course is between the member states and the host country,” he told reporters.
It was not clear which bank the Syrian mission was using. Jaafari told the U.N. General Assembly’s budget committee that the recently closed account was one his mission opened last year in Washington after a different bank in New York had closed all of Syria’s accounts.
Jaafari said the problem was the result of “unilateral sanctions.” The United States and European Union have imposed an array of sanctions on Damascus due to the Syrian bloodshed, which they blame on Assad’s government's assault on an uprising that began peacefully but has become increasingly militarized.
Western powers have urged the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions too, but Russia and China have rejected the idea.