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 Remarks By Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew At The United Nations Security Council Meeting On Combating The Financing Of Terrorism


As prepared for delivery

NEW YORK - Good afternoon.  We come together at a consequential time, and in a historic setting: never before have finance ministers convened for an official Security Council meeting.  This unprecedented session underscores the importance of combating the financing of terrorism, the international community's dedication to destroying ISIL, and the critical role of finance ministries and the broader international financial community in this fight. 

I want to thank Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for his leadership and the UN's commitment to this important effort; President Je-Yoon Shin of the Financial Action Task Force for traveling all this way, and for all FATF is doing to counter terror threats; and Ambassador Power for her work to organize this session and complete the UN Security Council Resolution adopted today that will help us protect the international financial system from abuse and exploitation by terrorists. 

I also want to thank each of you for coming here to signal our collective resolve.  And I want to reaffirm the continued commitment of the United States to cut ISIL off from economic resources and the international financial system, and to work with the international community to use the measures in today's resolution, and the tools we have honed over the past fourteen years, to make the world safer from ISIL and other deadly terrorist groups. 

Evolution of Terror and Our International Response

After the September 11th attacks, the United States and our international partners vowed to counter terrorism with every tool we had.  Early on, we recognized the need to target the financial resources of terror networks, depriving them of the funds they need to recruit, train, travel, equip, attack, and murder.

Since that time, we have greatly strengthened the transparency and resilience of the international financial system and developed tools to track and disrupt terror funding streams.

The impact is real.  Regulators and financial institutions alike are far more sophisticated and attuned to the threat of terror financing, and have made it harder for terror groups, like Al-Qaida and Hizballah, to place and move funds.  Our financial system is more transparent, resilient, and stronger as a result.  We have uncovered and cut off channel after channel of support to Al-Qaida, leaving its branches hungry for funding, and less capable of plotting and carrying out attacks.  We have also improved our ability to deploy these tools in effective and sophisticated ways against other illicit finance threats, most notably in our successful, multilateral effort to bring Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program.

But we have also seen the terror threat evolve in dangerous ways.  Different tactics, like lone wolf attacks or shootings, are examples we have seen on American soil.  And new groups have emerged, with innovative messaging, recruiting, military, and financing strategies. 

ISIL is the most dangerous manifestation of this new threat.  Since it emerged, ISIL has terrorized the people of Iraq and Syria and, with its attacks in Paris and elsewhere, killed and wounded people from many nations and religions.  Our governments, in coordination with the UN and other multilateral organizations, have been countering ISIL for some time, but we all know there is more we need to do together to degrade and destroy this brutal force of terror. 

What the United States Is Doing

Since 2014, the United States has been working to destroy ISIL by, as President Obama made clear again last week, "drawing upon every aspect of American power."  A critical part of the U.S. whole-of-government strategy is the use of the counter-terror financing tools and authorities to stop ISIL's operations by isolating it financially and economically.

As many of you know, ISIL is a challenging financial target.  Unlike other terror groups, ISIL derives a relatively small share of its funding from donors abroad.  Instead, ISIL generates wealth from economic activity and resources within territory under its control.  And ISIL's financing has evolved from seizing territory and looting bank vaults to leveraging more renewable revenue streams: so far, ISIL has reaped an estimated $500 million dollars from black market oil and millions more from the people it brutalizes and extorts.

At the same time, ISIL has financial vulnerabilities.  And the U.S. approach has evolved as well to attack these vulnerabilities; ISIL's newer financing methods are now targets.  Because of its need to control territory, ISIL requires large and renewable streams of income to pay fighters, procure weapons, and provide basic services for local populations.  And in order to sustain its oil infrastructure and its military efforts, ISIL needs to access the international financial system.  Those dependencies present opportunities for attack.

To cut off ISIL resources and funding streams, most importantly revenue from its oil sales, the U.S. military has been working with coalition partners to attack ISIL's entire oil supply chain: its oil fields, refineries, and tanker trucks.  Over the past month, nearly 400 of ISIL's oil tanker trucks have been destroyed.  While these attacks are having a real and growing impact, the United States and international community must also work with countries bordering Iraq and Syria to enhance border security to help stop illicit cross-border flows.

To sever ISIL from the international financial system, the United States is working with its partners to actively target ISIL's key financial facilitators, sanctioning more than thirty of its senior leaders and financiers; U.S. officials have worked with the Government of Iraq to deny ISIL access to the Iraqi financial system; and, in collaboration with law enforcement and foreign partners, U.S. officials have worked with financial institutions as they refine their ability to detect activity associated with ISIL supporters. 

New Resolution and International Efforts

While we are making progress to financially isolate ISIL, if we are to succeed we all must intensify our efforts, on our own and together at the international level.

Today, we adopted a new UN Security Council resolution that builds on previous measures and strengthens our existing tools.  It expands the focus of the UN Security Council resolution 1267 Al-Qaida sanctions regime to specifically emphasize ISIL in the designation criteria, making ISIL-association grounds for targeted sanctions.  It calls on member states to ensure they have the legal tools to criminalize the financing of individual terrorists and terrorist organizations for any purpose—recruiting, training, travel, and other activities—even in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act.  It calls upon member states to increase engagement with the private sector to prevent terrorist use of the financial system.  And it encourages governments to better share information, internally and between nations, to avoid missing critical information about terrorist activity.

This Resolution is a critical step, but the real test will be determined by actions we each take after adoption.  We need meaningful implementation, coordination, and enforcement from each country represented here, and many others.  As we have all learned—with our work to counter Al-Qaida, ISIL, and other groups to date—successful use of these counter-terror financing tools requires robust domestic implementation, deep collaboration with private partners, and intense multilateral coordination and information sharing. The importance of this coordination was exemplified this year when we at Treasury worked with our French and European counterparts in real time to provide over 1300 leads immediately following the horrific Paris attacks in January and November. This type of coordination is ongoing and essential, and we must combine it with a relentless desire to adapt and change our tools as these groups adapt to us.  The nations of the world standing together, acting together represents a more powerful force than our individual actions alone.

We must also work through other multilateral organizations.  Last week, FATF held a meeting on investigating and prosecuting terrorist financiers and implementing targeted financial sanctions.  And the Counter ISIL Finance Group, which the United States leads along with Italy and Saudi Arabia, is focused on, among other things, expanding information sharing and combating the financing of ISIL's affiliates.

Even as we continue this important work, we must also remain steadfast in our commitment to both protect the stability of the international financial system and expand financial inclusion so the benefits of global growth are broadly shared.  These two objectives—protecting the financial system from illicit activity while increasing access to financial services—are complementary, not conflicting, as we know that financial exclusion undermines the integrity of the entire financial sector and inclusion creates stakeholders around the world committed to positive change.

In conclusion, our joint work on counter-terror financing over the past fourteen years has taught us we can meet the long-term, evolving terror challenge, but we must keep adapting and stay focused to do so.  This enhanced Sanctions Regime, and robust implementation of it and other counter-terror financing measures, will help us meet the terror threat, whether from ISIL; others, like Al-Qaida, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Hizballah, and Nusrah; or new individuals and groups.

I want to thank so many of you for traveling to participate in this historic session, and for your support of this important Resolution and this broader, long-term effort. 

Thank you.


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