Diplomats from many countries, including Egypt, complained to US government officials Thursday about the decision by several American banks to close the accounts of their diplomatic missions and their difficulty in finding new banking facilities.
Patrick Kennedy, the State Department's undersecretary for management, and Mark Poncy, director of strategy policy at the Treasury, briefed about 200 diplomats behind closed doors and then listened to envoys from many of the UN's 192 member nations.
JPMorgan Chase and amp; Co., which held many UN diplomatic accounts and is among the banks closing them, gave no reason for its action.
In a 30 September letter, it assured ambassadors that "this business decision does not reflect on your organization or how you have handled your account(s)." It added that personal accounts would not be affected.
But Egypt's UN Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz pointed to more rigorous US federal reporting rules.
"Banks are acting on a commercial basis ... so they have to calculate every penny they spend," he said. "If you keep asking them to present reports about monitoring and others, then this is one factor they have to take into consideration and it is a private enterprise."
The United States tightened reporting regulations for overseas transactions after the 11 September 2001, terrorist attacks. The rules aim to prevent the illegal flow of foreign funds for such crimes as money laundering, terrorism and drug trafficking.
Ambassadors from South Africa, Morocco, Egypt and Iran, and the Palestinian UN observer told reporters they complained at the meeting that they have not been able to find alternative banks.
"We can't find yet another bank. We shopped around," Egypt's Abdelaziz said, adding that banks told his mission "they don't have space." South Africa's UN Ambassador Baso Sangqu said "we are looking for solutions," stressing that diplomatic missions cannot operate without banking services.
Iran's UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee said the problem not only threatens the operation of UN missions but the functioning and existence of the United Nations because countries can't pay their UN dues and contributions to the world body's peacekeeping missions without a US bank account.
"All missions have been looking ... to find a suitable bank to open their account but unfortunately from what I hear from almost everybody, no bank has been cooperating with them," he told reporters.
Khazaee said he suggested that the United Nations Federal Credit Union be authorized to provide banking services to diplomatic missions. He said he also suggested that the United Nations take its money out of Chase "and put it in the bank that is willing to open accounts for missions."
(Edited by Ahram Online)