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US Presses for UN Resolution to Fight ISIS’ Financing

Reuters

The United States and Russia are negotiating a new resolution at the United Nations Security Council intended to strengthen international efforts to cut off revenues that the Islamic State raises to govern territory and spread its ideology.

The United States, as the rotating president of the Security Council, is pressing for the adoption of the resolution at an unusual gathering on Dec. 17, at which some of the finance ministers from the 15 members of the council are expected to attend.

The new resolution against the Islamic State would be based on one first passed in 1999 to target the financing of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, its leader at the time. A similar measure was passed in February, directed at the Islamic State, but Russia, which holds veto power as a permanent member of the Council, has complained that it is routinely flouted.

Russia's ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, said Friday that Moscow wanted the new measure to include a provision that required the secretary general's office to report who is violating the prohibitions. He declined to elaborate.

We decided to do a joint draft to tighten the screws on those who trade with ISIL," Mr. Churkin said, referring to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL He added that such a measure would "toughen the stance of the international community on our fight against terrorists."

The sources of the Islamic State's revenues are broadly known, but officials have acknowledged that many of the details have proved elusive and difficult to combat.

In addition to a steady trade in oil, the group extracts even greater amounts of money from people in the territory it controls, by imposing taxes, fees and penalties on activities from business to looting antiquities. To a lesser extent it also relies on money transfers in and out of Syria and Iraq — flows of money that the new resolution would seek to halt.

By most estimates, the group raises more than a billion dollars a year, which it uses to fund its fighters and provide basic services in its territories in Syria and Iraq. That has made it arguably the wealthiest terrorist organization in the world.

The new effort by the United States comes as controversy over the Islamic State's finances divides countries deeply involved in the conflict in Syria and Iraq, but American officials and diplomats said there was a growing consensus that more needed to be done.

Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew will preside over the meeting in New York. Administration officials said it would be the first meeting of the Security Council to involve finance ministers from some of the council's current 15 members, and they expressed hope that the resolution, still being drafted, would be adopted by then.

"Cutting ISIL off from the international financial system and disrupting its financing are critical to effectively combating this violent terrorist group," Mr. Lew said in a statement.

The draft resolution specifically cites the Islamic State, something Russia has been pressing for since late September. Moscow has insisted, however, that any efforts against the Islamic State be done with the consent of the state in which it operates — which in the case of Syria would involve cooperating with the government. Such a provision is unlikely to be in the draft, as it would not win the support of countries on the council.

The United Nations already maintains a list of scores of people and organizations designated as financial supporters of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other related terrorist groups, including the Islamic State. Those designations require nations to block financial transfers and prosecute violations, though administration officials have long said that enforcement has been inconsistent in some cases.

There is also a resolution that imposes sanctions on those who help the banned terrorist organization produce and smuggle oil out of Syria, and reminds all countries around the world that it is already illegal to pay the group ransom in exchange for hostages.

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President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has accused Turkey of profiting from a lucrative trade in oil with the Islamic State in Syria. He made the charge after Turkey downed a Russian fighter jet that it accused of briefly crossing into its airspace last week.

Russia's deputy minister of defense, Anatoly I. Antonov, this week linked the illicit trade to the family of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an accusation Turkey and the United States have denied.

American officials said the goal of a new resolution focused on the Islamic State was to include "more precise and detailed" ways to combat the transfer of those funds in or out of the group's territory, but the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic discussions, declined to discuss the draft in detail before it was circulated among the Security Council's current 15 members.

They said they did not anticipate significant opposition to the new effort, given the broad consensus against the Islamic State, though there remain significant differences over the military campaign in Syria, especially between the government of President Bashar al-Assad and its backers Russia and Iran and the United States and its allies fighting the group there and in Iraq.

One administration official said that the meeting, along with the new resolution, was intended to coordinate intelligence and financial regulatory practices to stanch the group's revenues but also to put diplomatic pressure on countries to do more to go after individuals who are suspected of donating money to the group — "to ensure their financial systems are hostile environments for terrorist financing."

David Andrew Weinberg, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, an advocacy group in Washington, expressed skepticism that the new proposals alone would do much without more aggressive efforts to prosecute violators. There is already extensive evidence of transfers from wealthy donors in the Persian Gulf in particular, but few concrete penalties.

"There is still so much reticence to actually engage in that naming and shaming that this has limited impact," he said.

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