If Biden Really Wants To Help The Iranians There Is An Easy Way To Do It


  • The Biden administration has said more than once that it wants to adapt U.S. sanctions to avoid unintentional damage.
  • Despite this goal, many people, including 84 million Iranians, still suffer from US sanctions despite technical exemptions.
  • Mani Mostofi is the director of the MIAAN group.

Last Monday, the Biden administration published its 2021 sanctions review, intended to guide the administration’s use of sanctions going forward.

In the report, the administration says it must start “calibrating sanctions to mitigate unanticipated economic, political and humanitarian impacts.” Seems familiar?

We also heard this same sentiment from then-presidential candidate Biden during the election campaign, calling on the United States to put aside divisive politics and fulfill its obligation to provide aid. humanitarian aid to countries – specifically Iran.

But the reality is very different. Even though humanitarian trade is technically exempt from US sanctions, millions of people continue to suffer from sanctions regimes, especially Iran’s 84 million citizens.

It’s time for Biden to turn his rhetoric into action. As one of the main architects of Democrats’ sanctions confirmed, sanctions cause drug shortage, by limiting access to food, and gut the livelihood ordinary citizens in Iran, and hurt women above all. Trump’s maximum pressure policy and the Covid pandemic have only exacerbated the situation.

Tehran Iran Medicine Pharmacy

A pharmacist hands a bag of drugs to a customer at a pharmacy in Tehran on February 20, 2020.

Kaveh Kazemi / Getty Images


After all, Iran has seen one of the highest Covid infections and deaths rates worldwide, with an estimated 5.7 million known infections and more than 122,000 deaths. There is no doubt about it – Iran’s internal turmoil has absolutely complicated the country’s ability to fight the virus, especially after the Supreme Leader decided to to prohibit Vaccines made in the West earlier this year, only to reverse it months later.

But let’s be clear, a major hurdle Iran faces in reversing the impact of this deadly virus are sanctions. US sanctions have considerably pushed up the cost of COVID treatment makes it difficult for everyone to access, while limiting the supply of rare and vital drugs to fight other serious diseases like cancer.

And the few steps the Biden administration has taken to facilitate any aid to Iran has had little to no impact. While the US Treasury Department has exempted humanitarian trade of the restrictions imposed by the sanctions, this is not enough because banks and international companies have been dissuaded from engaging for fear of violating the myriad of American laws on sanctions against Iran.

In June, the Treasury Department took another step forward and issued a general license ostensibly allowing the flow of Covid-related aid to Iran, but while that looks good on paper, it still hasn’t resolved institutions’ reluctance to intervene given the lack of clarity on whether banks are really allowed to facilitate payments.

An employee works with her laptop at the Takhfifan company in Tehran, Iran, January 19, 2016. REUTERS / Raheb Homavandi / TIMA

An employee works with her laptop at the Takhfifan company in Tehran, January 19, 2016.

Thomson reuters


Fortunately, Biden could take swift action to secure much-needed relief for the Iranians and keep his promises.

First, the United States should provide clearer public assurances to financial institutions, businesses, and governments that engage in humanitarian trade with Iran, including through comfort letters as well as through white list of acceptable Iranian financial institutions that this type of trading will not be penalized.

Second, the administration should give the green light to Iran’s request for an emergency IMF loan of $ 5 billion to fight COVID, which Trump blocked Last year.

And finally the United States must start to thaw some foreign assets from Iran so that they can begin to make meaningful use of the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA) channel, set up in coordination with the Trump administration, and the Trade Support Instrument commercial (INTEX), both of which remain the best channels for COVID relief.

In this way, Iran can start purchasing food, medicine and medical supplies through mechanisms ensuring that these funds are used only for humanitarian purposes.

Iran

Iranians in Tehran, February 29, 2020.

Reuters


Remember that the current administration has already shown its willingness to unfreeze similar funds when it did so to allow the Islamic Republic to pay her contributions to the UN. As important as UN voting rights are, medical supplies and Covid vaccines should receive at least the same level of attention.

All of these actions can be done quickly with the stroke of a pen, and without them ordinary Iranians face a long and deadly road out of this pandemic.

Why, then, the current administration so hesitant? With the JCPOA talks currently stalled, Biden may want to use humanitarian aid as a pressure point to bring Iran back to the negotiating table.

Some might argue that Biden is concerned about taking action that the Iranian hawks could interpret as a “Concession“in Tehran. But rather than a” concession, “the decision to facilitate humanitarian trade mechanisms should be seen as an affirmation of the United States’ commitment to lead relief against Covid and mitigate the damage from the sanctions.

The well-being of the Iranian people must not be held hostage by the toxic policies between Tehran and Washington. The Biden administration has a chance to step in and take action beyond the same old rhetoric.

Mani Mostofi is the director of MIAAN Group.

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