Former world officials: US sanctions compromising Iran healthcare system amid pandemic
A group of 24 senior diplomats and defense officials have called on US President Donald Trump to make a targeted effort to ease Washington's rules, which prevent Tehran from trading in medical and humanitarian goods, in order to save “potentially hundreds of thousands of lives” across the Middle East amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement on Monday, the group said the move "could potentially save the lives of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iranians and, by helping to curb the virus’s rapid spread across borders, the lives of its neighbors, Europeans, Americans and others,” The Guardian reported.
Former EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, former director general of the World Health Organization Gro Harlem Brundtland, four former NATO secretary generals and senior American diplomats in the administrations of George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are among the main supporters of the call.
Signatories also include former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former US defense secretaries William Cohen and Chuck Hagel, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency Hans Blix, former US treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, former US lead diplomat on the Iran deal, William Burns, and former NATO secretary general George Robertson.
The United States reinstated its sanctions against Iran in May 2018 after leaving a United Nations-endorsed nuclear agreement with the Islamic Republic and five other major powers -- the UK, France, Russia, China plus Germany.
While the Islamic Republic is battling the fast-spreading outbreak, the Trump administration refuses to ease up its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran. It has even tightened sanctions several times in recent weeks, making it almost impossible for Iran to access life-saving medications and medical equipment necessary in the fight against the deadly new coronavirus pandemic.
Iran says the unilateral US sanctions have seriously hampered its fight against the pandemic. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote to the United Nations and his counterparts last month, urging them to ignore the coercive measures.
The statement by the world’s former diplomats and officials further said, "Though never intended to kill, US ‘maximum pressure’ through sanctions on Iran are compromising the performance of the Iranian healthcare system as Iran’s outbreak moves into its second month."
It added, "Despite humanitarian exemptions provided under US and international law, these sanctions make the importation of medicine, medical equipment and raw materials needed to produce these goods domestically slower, more expensive, and complicated."
The signatories also urged Trump not to use US voting rights on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) board to disrupt an Iranian request for a $5bn (£4bn) loan and to issue a statement supporting the use of INSTEX, a trade mechanism set up by Britain, France and Germany in 2019 to protect companies doing business with Iran from Washington's sanctions.
In a tweet on March 12, Zarif called on the IMF to extend support to Iran, who is a member state of the Washington-based lender.
Zarif said the IMF managing director “has stated that countries affected by #COVID19 will be supported via Rapid Financial Instrument. Our Central Bank requested access to this facility immediately.”
In an Instagram post, Abdulnaser Hemmati, the governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), said Iran has asked the IMF for $5 billion emergency funding to fight the coronavirus pandemic as the number of infections keeps growing in the country.
Hemmati added that he had written to the IMF’s head, Kristalina Georgieva, to stress Iran’s “right to benefit from the fund’s $50-billion Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI).”
Elsewhere in their statement, former world officials warned of "significant and long-lasting consequences for the reputation of the United States and Europe among the Iranian people” if Trump does not provide relief from sanctions.
They said, "This would starkly raise the political costs of engaging with either the US or Europe for any current or future Iranian decision-makers, while simultaneously boosting the influence of Iran’s non-Western partners."