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Geithner: Levey’s departure won’t affect policy

The Obama administration’s top official for financial sanctions Stuart Levey will step down and be replaced by his deputy David Cohen at the Treasury Department. Levey will resign next month and the administration will nominate Cohen to replace him next week, a senior administration official told The Cable. Levey has been serving as the under ...

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Getty Images
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The Obama administration's top official for financial sanctions Stuart Levey will step down and be replaced by his deputy David Cohen at the Treasury Department.

Levey will resign next month and the administration will nominate Cohen to replace him next week, a senior administration official told The Cable. Levey has been serving as the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence since 2004; Cohen has been assistant secretary for terrorist financing since 2009. The Cable received e-mailed statements from several top Obama administration officials praising Levey's tenure and pledging that the drive will continue unabated to increase and enforce sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and groups that financially support violent extremist groups.

The resignation comes just as the latest round of talks between the P5+1 countries and Iran regarding its nuclear program seem to have sputtered and even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated more sanctions could be in the offing.

The Obama administration’s top official for financial sanctions Stuart Levey will step down and be replaced by his deputy David Cohen at the Treasury Department.

Levey will resign next month and the administration will nominate Cohen to replace him next week, a senior administration official told The Cable. Levey has been serving as the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence since 2004; Cohen has been assistant secretary for terrorist financing since 2009. The Cable received e-mailed statements from several top Obama administration officials praising Levey’s tenure and pledging that the drive will continue unabated to increase and enforce sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and groups that financially support violent extremist groups.

The resignation comes just as the latest round of talks between the P5+1 countries and Iran regarding its nuclear program seem to have sputtered and even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated more sanctions could be in the offing.

"It will have no effect on policy, or on our ability to execute the President’s policy," said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. "David came to Treasury with well established outside expertise and has worked at Stuart’s side for the last two years."

Geither said that when the Obama administration took office, Levey had agreed to stay for six months but ended up staying for over two years.

"There’s no perfect time for these things. But this is as good a time as any," said Geithner.

Geither called Levey "tremendously effective" and "the best mixture of toughness and creativity," and credited him with convincing a host of public and private actors to join the U.S. government’s fight to name and shame organizations that help rogue states and non-government actors finance illicit activities.

For example, Levey’s team was instrumental in convincing Japan and South Korea to take step to end their business with Iran’s energy sector after President Obama signed new sanctions legislation last July. In 2006, Levey’s team led the drive to publicly accuse Macau’s Banco Delta Asia of doing laundering money for the North Korean regime.

"Every financial institution anywhere in the world needs to preserve its reputation for integrity in order to do business globally and especially in the U.S….Stuart has been able to use that reality as an incentive to get the private sector to move to reinforce our policies," he said.

White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan said in a statement that Levey’s work had directly degraded the capabilities of those who seek to do the U.S. harm.

"Stuart has helped save lives, and our country owes him a strong debt of gratitude," said Brennan. "While we will greatly miss Stuart’s involvement in these ongoing efforts, we are very fortunate to have someone of David Cohen’s caliber and in-depth experience to build upon Stuart’s outstanding work."

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said that Levey had elevated Treasury’s role in the national security sphere and praised his work on devising and enforcing sanctions on Iran.

"Stuart designed and executed innovative financial strategies for targeting terrorists, proliferators, and other illicit actors, and built an international consensus around the use of targeted sanctions as an effective means of combating threats, pressuring regimes, and safeguarding the financial system," Donilon said.

The Wall Street Journal, which first reported Levey’s departure, said that Levey had not yet decided what to do next. Here’s how the paper described Levey’s tenure:

The Ohio native traveled widely across Asia, the Middle East and Europe to press foreign governments and businesses to cut off their financial ties to Iranian and North Korean entities believed to be involved in weapons proliferation and terrorism. Since 2004, he has also built up Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence into a major cog in the U.S. national-security apparatus, with more than 700 people involved in activities such as tracking illicit financing and approving export licenses for sensitive technologies.

Treasury officials now have a prominent seat in virtually every national-security debate.

Levey’s work on Iran and North Korea sanctions also earned his praise today from Capitol Hill, where sanctions hawk Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) praised Levey’s impact on the overall financial sanctions regime.

"Indeed, what David Petraeus has done for counterinsurgency warfare, Stuart Levey has done for economic warfare — completely rewriting the book on the subject," Lieberman said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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