US Sanctions Continue To Bite In Iran As Its COVID-19 Crisis Deepens

Last Sunday, a brigade of Cuban doctors arrived in Lombardy to help combat the COVID-19 crisis ravaging Italy. Global divisions appeared to be eroding in the face of a much bigger enemy. Yet such shows of unity were nowhere to be found in Iran. For residents of Iran, the pain of US sanctions still bites as hard as the virus. To be sure, the impact of COVID-19 on Iran has been brutal. On Sunday, Al Jazeera reported that Iranians had seen 2,640 deaths at the hands of the Coronavirus.

Yet US sanctions have led the crisis in Iran to bite deeper and harder. On Sunday, the Seattle Times reported that US sanctions were depriving the Iranian health care system of equipment. As Nouradin Pirmoazen, a thoracic surgeon and former lawmaker in Iran, said; “Medical staff who want a specific type of medicine or equipment are having difficulty transferring money outside of Iran due to the sanctions,”

Indeed, last October, Human Rights Watch noted that US sanctions had already “drastically constrained the ability of the country to finance humanitarian imports, including medicines, causing serious hardships for ordinary Iranians.”

In light of the crisis, Iranian officials urged the international community to lift sanctions. Calls for relief echoed across the globe. Last week, United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for any sanctions imposed globally to be reevaluated; “At this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended.”

Indeed, calls even came from major figures within the U.S. Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders was particularly vocal tweeting; “Iran is facing a catastrophic toll from the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. sanctions should not be contributing to this humanitarian disaster.” The memo did not reach Donald Trump. As Reuters reported on March 20; “The United States sent Iran a blunt message this week: the spread of the coronavirus will not save it from U.S. sanctions that are choking off its oil revenues and isolating its economy.” Indeed, on Thursday the US Treasury slapped a fresh round of sanctions on Iran.

For ordinary Iranian citizens suffering and despair do not look likely to abate. Their own government is not letting up its antipathy to the West either. On Tuesday the Iranian government’s decided to refuse any ‘foreign help’ from the French non-government organisation Médicins Sans Frontières.

Yet, in a moment of crisis things that seem inconceivable – like the landing of Cuban doctors in Italy – sometimes becomes possible. Perhaps the same might be true in the Middle East.