The US should relax sanctions as a matter of urgency

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Publish Date : 04/01/2020 20:06
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As coronavirus cases explode in Iran, U.S. sanctions hinder its access to drugs and medical equipment.

Iran has called on the UN to urge the US to lift sanctions, and many countries have made similar demands, but Washington remains obdurate in its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. The US issued a new set of sanctions earlier this month, aimed at the transport of petrochemicals from Iran.

According to Washington Post, sweeping U.S. sanctions are hampering Iranian efforts to import medicine and other medical supplies to confront one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the world, health workers and sanctions experts say. The broad U.S. restrictions on Iran’s banking system and the embargo on its oil exports have limited Tehran’s ability to finance and purchase essential items from abroad, including drugs as well as the raw materials and equipment needed to manufacture medicines domestically.

The Trump administration has also reduced the number of licenses it grants to companies for certain medical exports to Iran, according to quarterly reports from a U.S. Treasury Department enforcement agency. The list of items requiring special authorization includes oxygen generators, full-face respirator masks and thermal imaging equipment, all of which are needed to treat patients and keep medical workers safe, doctors say. The tough measures are part of a U.S. “maximum pressure campaign” against Iran, adopted by the Trump administration after it unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal Iran had signed with world powers.

Iranian medical workers and global public health experts say it is not possible to determine exactly how much U.S. sanctions have affected Iran’s capacity to fight a virus that by official counts has infected more than 40,000 Iranians and killed at least 3000 — some estimates put the toll far higher — while spawning outbreaks in other countries. But they say it is clear that the Iranian health-care system is being deprived of equipment necessary to save lives and prevent wider infection.

The Trump administration, like its predecessors, has technically maintained an exemption from sanctions on the sale of humanitarian items to Iran. The Treasury Department recently approved a Swiss-sponsored mechanism allowing for the trade of food, medicine and other supplies with Tehran, without triggering U.S. sanctions. In practice, however, the U.S. restrictions — including penalties for conducting business with a range of Iranian banks and companies, including the Central Bank of Iran — have discouraged Western counterparts from trading with Tehran.
To use the Swiss humanitarian channel, for example, companies must provide extensive information to the Treasury Department every month about the Iranian beneficiaries of the goods. The documents must include, among other things, the Iranian companies’ business relationships, financial details and a written commitment from distributors that they will not allow the goods to be sold or resold to Iranian individuals or entities under sanction. According to Mohsen Zarkesh, an OFAC sanctions attorney at the Price Benowitz law firm in Washington, the sanctions exemptions don’t guarantee an unimpeded flow of humanitarian goods to Iran. He said that the United States has created “a legal and business environment equivalent to walking through a compliance mine field.”

On March 24, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner also called for the “urgent” reevaluation of sanctions against countries grappling with the global pandemic. In a statement , Michelle Bachelet highlighted the impact of the sanctions against Iran “on access to essential medicines and medical equipment — including respirators and protective equipment for health-care workers.” "Humanitarian exemptions to sanctions measures should be given broad and practical effect, with prompt, flexible authorization for essential medical equipment and supplies," Bachelet said.

On March 31, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food called for the immediate lifting of international sanctions to prevent hunger crises in countries hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. "The continued imposition of crippling economic sanctions on Syria, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba, and, to a lesser degree, Zimbabwe, severely undermines the ordinary citizens' fundamental right to sufficient and adequate food," "These countries are already under stress and cannot handle the additional burden of sanctions. As the world exhibits new bonds of solidarity in response to the pandemic, it is now a matter of humanitarian and practical urgency to lift unilateral economic sanctions immediately.

Even the US democrats in Congress are urging the Trump administration to ease sanctions on Iran, Venezuela, and other countries badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, citing the need to provide medical supplies and humanitarian support. "By targeting an entire economy that supports more than 80 million people, US sanctions make it harder for ordinary Iranians to obtain basic necessities like food and hygienic supplies essential to stemming the pandemic and that are basic to survival," the letter said.



“ The US should relax sanctions as a matter of urgency ”