On Sunday, March 23rd, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called American leaders to lift sanctions in order to prove their sincerity in helping Iran cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Rouhani said in a televised speech directed at American leaders, “You have blocked Iran’s oil exports, you have stopped Iran’s banking transactions… Your help offer is the biggest lie in history.” Iran was one of the first countries after China to be infected by the coronavirus. According to Worldometer, Iran has a total of 38,309 COVID-19 cases, with 2,640 people losing their lives to the virus so far. The Iranian government has been unsuccessful in preventing the spread of the virus, with the people of Iran suffering the brunt of these shortfalls. Iranian officials blame their failure in containing the virus on the United States’ battering of the Iranian economy. On March 12th, officials asked IMF for emergency funding of $5 billion to improve the situation. The request is still pending.
Rouhani implored the people of America to put pressure on their government to lift sanctions on Iran. Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif mentioned how the foreign-imposed economic restrictions make it harder for regular people to have access to drug and medical supplies. He referred to the continuing U.S. sanctions as “medical terrorism.” Zarif also tweeted, “U.S. is NOT listening, impeding global fight against #COVID19. The ONLY remedy: DEFY U.S. mass punishment. MORAL & PRAGMATIC imperative.” The director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, Barbara Slavin, stated that “sanctions have weakened the Iranian economy to such an extent that the country is really ill-prepared to deal with this crisis,” and called the U.S. to action by stating that “the responsibility for that falls on the United States.” There has been international support for Iran in its call to end sanctions and their need for IMF emergency funding. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan called the U.S. President Trump “…to lift the sanctions against Iran till the COVID-19 pandemic is over… The people of Iran are facing untold suffering as sanctions are crippling Iran’s efforts to fight COVID-19. Humanity must unite to fight this pandemic.” Against some concerns of the U.S. potentially vetoing Iran’s IMF aid request, the European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell announced that the E.U. will back Iran in their quest for financial support. Regardless of the international pressure, the U.S. responded by saying “the spread of the virus will not save [Iran] from U.S. sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy.”
Today, we are dealing with a pandemic that affects every human being in every country of the world. It is time for countries to use solidarity and support in our fight against the virus. The U.S. first imposed these sanctions in response to concerns about human rights violations within Iran. Today, Iran’s crippled economy has amplified humanitarian concerns, with limited access to the medication and health services needed to fight the virus. Some have criticized Iran for refusing U.S. humanitarian assistance offers due to conspiracy theories surrounding the creation of the virus by the U.S. government. Others have admired Iran’s determination to pressure the U.S. to lift the sanctions. Foreign aid repayments can create new problems in the future. In order to improve the lives of Iranians, it is important to have an independent economy. To show that its concerns for Iranians’ safety is sincere, the U.S. should consider lifting sanctions, at least till the end of the pandemic.
In 2018, after U.S. President Donald Trump exited Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal, the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran, and tension between the two countries began to rise. Sanctions hit the Iranian economy hard, according to BBC, with Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrinking by 9.5% between 2018 and 2019. The unemployment rate also rose from 14.5% to 16.8%. According to the Atlantic Council report in May 2019, despite the sanctions exempting humanitarian goods, the U.S. Treasury Department had prosecuted medical companies for selling medical supplies to Iran, causing a shortage of medical supplies essential to the fight against COVID-19 today. Iran announced its first two COVID-19 cases on 19 February. Within two weeks, the number increased to one thousand. On March 17, while Iran was the epicenter of coronavirus outbreak with over 16,000 cases, the U.S. decided to impose a new batch of sanctions as a part of their “maximum pressure” campaign against the Islamic Republic. Later, when they offered aid to combat the pandemic, Iranian officials refused it, due to their skepticism of the U.S.’ intentions.
The economic burden that the coronavirus has put on countries cannot be ignored. Every country has had to pass new bills and create budgets to improve their healthcare systems, in order to support their people during the pandemic. On March 28, Rouhani announced that “we are in difficult conditions, in conditions of sanctions but we have allocated 20% of our budget this year to corona.” The E.U. announced that it will send €20 million in humanitarian aid to Iran as well. Although these measures may assist Iran in the short term, the country will need to be able to rebuild its economy after the pandemic. Post-pandemic economic instability could thus result in more human rights violations. The U.S. should consider lifting the sanctions and seek other ways to punish Iran for its human rights violations in light of the current worldwide pandemic.