Coronavirus pandemic not affecting US policy towards Iran
WASHINGTON - The United States sent Iran a blunt message: the spread of the coronavirus will not save it from US sanctions that are choking off Tehran’s oil revenues and isolating its economy.
The United States, which argues that its “maximum pressure” campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear, missile and regional activities does not stop the flow of humanitarian goods, imposed new sanctions the week of March 16.
Some analysts suggested the Trump administration should do more to speed the flow of humanitarian goods into Iran, though they saw little evidence to suggest this was in the offing.
“Our policy of maximum pressure on the regime continues,” said Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iranian affairs. “US sanctions are not preventing aid from getting to Iran.”
“While Iran is an epicentre of this virus outbreak and facing true economic catastrophe… there will be no relief on sanctions,” said Elizabeth Rosenberg of the Centre for a New American Security think-tank.
Hook said Washington sent a diplomatic note to Tehran offering help with coronavirus “and it was quickly rejected.”
He blamed Iran’s leadership for its coronavirus woes, saying Iran “spends billions on terrorism and foreign wars” and that if it spent one-tenth of this “on a better health-care system, the Iranian people would have been much better off.”
In what might be a gesture to Washington, Tehran released US citizen Michael White from its custody though he must stay in Iran. Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution said Iran allowing White or other detained US citizens to return home might appeal to US President Donald Trump.
“I still don’t believe this administration wants to provide a lot of leeway to the Iranian authorities but that doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t be looking for every opportunity to” get medical supplies into Iran, she said.
“Iran is Italy, only on steroids,” Maloney said, alluding to the outbreak in Italy, whose coronavirus death toll has exceeded that of China, where the virus emerged.
Mark Dubowitz, an Iran hawk with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies policy group, said Washington could send medical goods to Iran via private groups but should not ease sanctions.
“At the very time Iran-backed Shia militias in Iraq are killing Americans and Brits and others, this would be exactly the wrong time to be providing any kind of economic relief to the regime,” he said, referring to this month’s attack on a military camp in Iraq that killed one British and two US personnel.
“We should be sending medical supplies directly to Iranians through non-governmental organisations and bypass the regime.”