Trump administration under pressure to lift sanctions on Iran
The policy of “maximum pressure” towards Iran is increasingly criticized in the United States, where many voices are raised calling for the suspension of sanctions to help the country, one of the most affected by the epidemic, to fight against the spread of the coronavirus.
Should the US administration lift sanctions against Tehran to help it deal with the coronavirus epidemic? For several weeks, this question has been debated in the United States, while Iran has been one of the most affected countries in the world after China, Italy and Spain since the start of the pandemic.
The Islamic Republic has repeatedly called for the lifting of sanctions, imposed in the name of President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, since his unilateral withdrawal in May 2018 from the Iranian nuclear deal. But the US administration invariably responds in the negative, while offering humanitarian aid to the Iranians.
War of words
While Tehran and Washington are waging a war of words against the backdrop of a health crisis, the official toll of the epidemic in Iran, the highest in the region, continues to climb. According to the Iranian Ministry of Health, it stood at 2,234 dead on Thursday, March 26, and 29,406 positive cases. Last week, a World Health Organization official estimated that the death toll could be five times higher than suggested by official reports.
Asked on March 20 about the possibility of lifting sanctions against Iran, Donald Trump categorically refused. “They know the answer, the Iranian leaders know the answer to your question,” he replied, while reiterating his offer of help to the Iranians. “The only thing they need to do is ask “, he said in early March.
“If they want to help Iran, all they have to do is lift the sanctions […] Then we can deal with the coronavirus epidemic, “Iranian President Hassan Rohani said on March 23 in a television address. For his part, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who described the American leaders as “charlatans and liars”, repeatedly rejected the “outstretched hand” of the American president.
The US government has repeatedly repeated its provision to medically assist Iran on the #Coronavirus. Very surprising words, because according to your own managers, you yourself are suffering from a shortage. If you have something, use it to treat your own sick!
– Ayatollah Khamenei (@Khamenei_Fra) March 22, 2020
To justify the firmness of the Trump administration, which adopted a new set of sanctions last week after attacks on bases housing American soldiers in Iraq, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeats in his media outings that “l “Humanitarian aid to Iran is wide open and is not being sanctioned.” Officially, medical equipment and basic necessities are not subject to US sanctions.
An argument challenged by the UN, which calls on states ease sanctions on pandemic regimes. “The waiver systems are ineffective, and very slow as well. Iran, to speak of a country that is currently in crisis at the level of Covid-19, is sorely lacking in equipment. Iranian doctors and healthcare workers not only protect Iranians but also neighboring countries, and all of us, “said Ruth Marshall of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights recently.
It is in this context that the head of diplomacy of the European Union (EU), Josep Borrell, announced on Monday that he will send 20 million euros in humanitarian aid to Iran in the coming years. weeks. “We must reaffirm that humanitarian exchanges (…), food, medicines and medical equipment (…) are not under American sanctions”, he declared during a videoconference.
US politicians and media call for sanctions to be suspended
On the American national scene too, many voices are rising to criticize the “maximum pressure” policy.
“We must lift all sanctions, including financial, which hamper Iran’s ability to manage this crisis,” Bernie Sanders, one of the Democratic Party’s nomination contestants for the election, tweeted on March 18. presidential election in November.
Iran is facing a catastrophic toll from the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. sanctions should not be contributing to this humanitarian disaster.
As a caring nation, we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions. https://t.co/OBjff1nsxz
– Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 18, 2020
A few days earlier, elected Democrat Congressman Ilhan Omar had called for their suspension. “We must suspend these sanctions before losing even more lives,” she wrote on Twitter.
The debate also extends to the world of the press : in an editorial published on March 25, entitled “This coronavirus crisis is the time to ease sanctions against Iran”, the New York Times invites the American power to change policy. “Showing compassion in times of crisis is good foreign policy, and in this case it can really help achieve the goals of the Trump administration,” said the American daily.
In a column published by NBCNewsHadi Ghaemi, founder and director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran, based in New York, explains the dangers of Donald Trump’s policy. “We can spend several months debating what the government [iranien] repressive provoked and on what it deserves. But meanwhile, many more people will die in Iran and the virus will continue to spread. This collective punishment inflicted on the Iranian people will only endanger our own efforts by letting the epidemic spread beyond Iranian borders, ”he said.
In this debate, which in no way clears Iranian power of its responsibilities in the spread of the coronavirus in the country, the prestigious Wall Street Journal has sided with the political side of the Trump administration. Entitled, “No time to end sanctions against Iran”, an editorial recalls that “the (Iranian) regime is responsible for the suffering of its people”.
He added that “the easing of sanctions would consolidate the regime’s precarious position without relieving the Iranian people. Tehran will have money for drugs if it cuts spending on missiles, nuclear weapons development and military adventurism. ”
The regime accused of having downplayed the scale of the epidemic
It must be said that in Iran, since the start of the crisis, lack of transparency from the authorities, who asked for $ 5 billion in aid from the IMF, are singled out. The government is notably accused of having initially hidden the appearance of the first cases of Covid-19 in the country in order not to compromise, on the one hand, the festivities planned for the anniversary of the 1979 revolution, on February 11, and encourage participation in the legislative elections of February 21.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself has repeatedly referred to the possibility of a plot targeting the Iranians. President Hassan Rohani also spoke at the end of February of “an enemy plot to sow panic”, assuring that the Covid-19 epidemic was under control …
In addition, you are accused of having produced the #Coronavirus. I don’t know how accurate this accusation is! but as long as such an accusation exists, no wise man can trust you. / 2
– Ayatollah Khamenei (@Khamenei_Fra) March 22, 2020
The government is especially suspected of having long sought to minimize the magnitude of the health crisis, yet relayed by the medical profession, which is facing material shortages, and by some elected officials on social networks. Confessed lies of the authorities following the Iranian anti-aircraft defense destruction of the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing on January 8 have left their mark and made official speech lose its credibility in the eyes of many Iranians.
Not to mention the echoes of tensions and divergences at the top of the State on the procedure to follow to fight against the epidemic, as illustrated by the cancellation at the last moment of the installation of a field hospital of the French NGO Médecins sans frontières (MSF) in Isfahan, officially because the country did not need additional treatment capacities to care for the sick. According to the Persian news site Radio Farda, the hard wing of the regime, hostile to any foreign presence, will have had the last word.
Finally, the government’s decision not to impose containment measures across the country, even though schools, universities, cultural and sports centers have been temporarily closed, is also targeted by critics.
It is only since Thursday that interurban travel has been prohibited, the day after a warning from local authorities against a second wave of contamination, while the festivities of the Persian New Year, Norouz, began on March 20 .
So far, Iranians have only been invited to stay “as much as possible” at home, with authorities reluctant to impose tougher containment measures to avoid further sinking the country’s economy, already weakened by US sanctions.
Half-March, a study from Sharif University in Tehran has delivered several scenarios that Iran may face. In the worst case, the epidemic, which would peak at the end of May, could cause up to 3.5 million deaths.