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Finance chiefs are pressed on Iran

US asks for help to isolate nation

SINGAPORE -- US Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. used his first meeting of world finance chiefs yesterday as a venue for the Bush administration's mission to isolate Iran and choke its nuclear aspirations.

Emerging from a meeting of finance ministers representing the Group of Seven industrialized nations, Paulson said he urged his counterparts to intensify efforts to prevent banks and private companies in their countries from being used as unwitting conduits for financing and materials aiding Iran's ambitions. He said scores of seemingly legitimate businesses are fronts in what the United States contends is a broad Iranian campaign to gain weapons of mass destruction and support such terrorist groups as Hezbollah and Hamas.

``There's a broad network of front companies, and these are not front companies that say `Nuclear Acquisition Corp.' or `Weapons Production Corp.,' " Paulson said at a news conference after the meeting. ``These are mundane-sounding companies that do many legitimate activities, but in addition, do some of these untoward and illicit activities."

The Treasury Department's campaign is occurring after the Bush administration's failure to secure United Nations sanctions against Iran. Paulson portrayed the initiative as ``an education job," giving his counterparts the ability to act voluntarily. Treasury officials have been dispatched to meet with finance ministers, banks, and private companies, sharing intelligence aimed at illuminating how the Iranian network operates.

In a statement issued after the meeting, the G-7 finance ministers lent general support.

``We agreed to intensify our efforts to combat money laundering, proliferation network[s], as well as terrorist and illicit financing by addressing global financial vulnerabilities, particularly those associated with jurisdictions that have failed to recognize international standards," they said. (The G-7 consists of the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Canada, and Italy.)

Paulson also pressed to resurrect an effort aimed at boosting global trade. The Doha round of trade talks disbanded in July after years of wrangling, with poor countries accusing the United States and Europe of killing the chance for a deal by refusing to sufficiently reduce protective tariffs on agricultural goods. Paulson said the administration remains willing to lift tariffs, provided that US exporters gain greater rights to sell their products abroad.

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