Iran blames 'unjust' US sanctions for its outbreak as coronavirus death toll spikes to 3,000

Iran blames 'unjust' US sanctions for its outbreak as coronavirus death toll spikes to 3,000
Iran officials have blamed the country's crumbling response to coronavirus on crippling US sanctions, but officials have pushed back, arguing Iran just wants 'cash for the regime'.
3 min read
02 April, 2020
Mike Pomeo says Iran wants sanctions lifted for the regime - not coronavirus aid [Getty]
Iran has blamed crippling US sanctions for its struggles with containing coronavirus as it continues to be the epicentre of the outbreak in the Middle East, with over 3,000 deaths.

Officials in the Islamic Republic blame US sanctions for its severely disabled economy and the dangerous shortage of medical equipment, arguing that sanctions are costing lives and pleading with the United States to lift them on humanitarian grounds.

Iran's pleas for help have been answered by Russia and China, and the European Union has pledged to provide 20 million Euros (£17.6 million).

On Tuesday, Germany, France and the UK implemented the INSTEX mechanism, a bartering system set up a year ago, to bypass US sanctions on Iran. The delivery of medical goods was the first instance of the mechanism's use.

But the US refuses to budge on the sanctions issue.

"We had always said the sanctions are unjust but coronavirus revealed this injustice to the world," Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in a recent video message, calling the sanctions "economic terrorism".

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated over the weekend that Iran's "concerted effort to lift US sanctions isn't about fighting the pandemic. It's about cash for the regime leaders".

Iran has confirmed more than 47,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 3,000 deaths, although public health experts estimate the real death toll is much higher.

Pompeo also accused Iran's leaders of "trying to avoid responsibility for their grossly incompetent and deadly governance".

However, Pompeo has since changed his tune, and hinted on Tuesday that Washington could ease some sanctions on Iran, due to the deadly outbreak of the coronavirus in the country.

"We evaluate all of our policies constantly, so the answer is, would we ever rethink? Of course," Pompeo said, in response to a question on whether the US might ease sanctions on Iran.

When Mr. Zarif accused the United States of waging "medical terror", the State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus tweeted "Stop lying".

"It's not the sanctions. It's the regime," Ortagus added.

The United States imposed fresh sanctions on Iran two weeks ago, insisting that the sanctions exempt the sale of medicine and medical services.

However sanctions on financial institutions and companies that engage in business with Iran have made it almost impossible for Iran to buy ventilators to treat coronavirus patients.

Read More: Coronavirus could kill 100,000 Syrians in Idlib's refugee camps

The sanctions "have largely deterred international banks and firms from participating in commercial or financial transactions with Iran, including for exempted humanitarian transactions, due to the fear of triggering US secondary sanctions on themselves," Human Rights Watch found in a report last year, months before the coronavirus emerged.

Some analysts have argued that the Trump administration sees the virus as a tool to be used to renegotiate a nuclear deal more in line with US interests.

"The Trump administration believes that the outbreak has succeeded where sanctions failed to weaken the economy even further," said Ali Vaez, Iran director for International Crisis Group.

"They think that the timeline for bringing Iran to its knees has shortened because of the coronavirus."

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