Just received this from friends who, like us, served in the US Peace Corps in Iran in the days of the Shah. Our friends note that both President Bush and President Obama provided sanctions relief to deal with earthquakes in Iran. The letter was written by Brad Hanson, lightly edited and then forwarded to us by Paul Barker. Both Brad and Paul spent their careers working with international organizations, and all of us are active in the Peace Corps Iran Association, of which my wife is president:
Coronavirus Action Needed for Iran
As you cope with the coronavirus pandemic in your own daily life, take a moment to act to help relieve the suffering of Iranians from the virus.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the interconnectedness of all mankind, expressed nine centuries ago by the great Iranian poet, Sa’adi Shirazi, in his “Bani Adam” or “Children of Adam” poem:
بنیآدم اعضای یکدیگرند
که در آفرينش ز یک گوهرند
چو عضوى بهدرد آورَد روزگار
دگر عضوها را نمانَد قرار
تو کز محنت دیگران بیغمی
نشاید که نامت نهند آدمی
Rhyming translations by M. Aryanpoor:
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.
Iran is the epicenter of the corona virus in the Middle East, with the most cases of any country in that region, and among the top four countries of the world in numbers of confirmed cases. As of 8 AM EDT, March 17, Iran had 16,169 confirmed cases and 988 deaths.
Some observers believe the true number is much higher.
The Iranian government underrated the initial outbreak, covered it up, did not share accurate information with its public, and made other mistakes in dealing with the pandemic – as did many governments around the world. But now it is treating the outbreak most seriously, closing schools and universities, suspending Friday prayers, and mobilizing its already beleaguered health system to stem the spread of the virus and care for its victims. Supplies of medicines, protective masks, medical equipment – already strained before the pandemic – are in very short supply and very difficult to obtain from abroad.
In combatting the virus, Iran confronts an obstacle most countries around the world do not – heavy US sanctions against the sale of its oil, against its banks, against its participation in the international trading and financial system.
Humanitarian assistance — food and medicine — are supposed to be exempt from US sanctions. The US Department of Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control on February 27 issued an amendment to the license under sanctions regulations against Iran’s Central Bank to make it easier to engage with it on transactions involving humanitarian assistance. However, the US secondary sanctions against companies, banks, and countries engaging in trade and financial transactions with Iran has made many banks and companies reluctant to engage in any transactions with Iran, including humanitarian, lest they somehow violate US sanctions. And the sanctions against the sale of oil have greatly diminished the Iranian government’s resources for funding its health system, dealing with the increasing unemployment from the disease, etc.
Thus, it’s imperative the US lift its sanctions against Iran for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic given the humanitarian emergency.
There are two precedents for doing this, albeit in response to much smaller humanitarian emergencies. President George W. Bush in February 2003, in response to the horrific Bam earthquake, relaxed US sanctions to facilitate humanitarian assistance and even authorized US military cargo planes to transport it and some 200 US civilian disaster responders to Bam. President Barack Obama in August 2012, in reaction to another earthquake, relaxed sanctions to facilitate humanitarian assistance, including from NGOs.
Lifting or relaxing sanctions to truly facilitate humanitarian assistance might also have some diplomatic benefits. It might be portrayed as a good will, humanitarian gesture by the US Government making eventual negotiations on the nuclear agreement and other issues a little bit easier.
Iranian FM Zarif has written the UN Secretary General asking the economic sanctions be lifted on humanitarian grounds.
The Iranian government has also asked for a $5 billion loan from an arm of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, its first request in sixty years. The IMF announced in early March a $50 billion package of financial assistance under its Rapid Financing Instrument to governments struggling to combat the coronavirus. To get the IMF loan, the US Government, as the dominant member of the World Bank, would have to approve. There would be ample safeguards written into the IMF’s terms to ensure that the loan would be used for measures related to combatting the virus. And the bulk of the loan is likely to be spent with European pharmaceutical and other companies to procure the necessary medical equipment and supplies.
It’s also important to advocate for US approval of Iran’s request to the IMF for a $5 billion rapid financial relief package is also the right thing to do.
Most importantly, these two actions are the humanitarian thing to do in this time of pandemic crisis, to show that Americans are “bani adam.”
Although a few Members of Congress in recent days have called for lifting or relaxing sanctions against Iran to facilitate its ability to combat the coronavirus, we are not aware of any specific legislation introduced in Congress. That could change, especially if enough Members of Congress hear from us.
We urge readers:
Contact your Members of Congress, both in the House and the Senate. If you do not know your Representative’s phone number, you can call 202-224-3121 and ask for your Representative by name.
Ask them to advocate with the Administration for lifting or relaxing US sanctions against Iran for the duration of the pandemic and to consider sponsoring legislation or joint resolutions in Congress. Ask them also to advocate with the Administration, the Treasury Department, the State Department for US support for Iran’s requested IMF emergency financial relief package for combatting the coronavirus.
Write letters to the editor, engage with the electronic media in interviews, and use social media to get across the same messages.
Show the world and Iran that we Americans are caring “bani adam.” [“children of Adam”]
For further information:
Negar Mortazavi: Bush and Obama eased sanctions on Iran during humanitarian crises, why isn’t Trump?
And this from Code Pink:
And from NIAC:
Coronavirus FAQ – Updated 3/10/20
NIAC Sends Letter to Treasury Encouraging Steps to Ensure U.S. Sanctions Do Not Hinder Iran’s Ability to Address Coronavirus
NIAC Welcomes U.S. Treasury Reversal to Exempt Certain Humanitarian Trade with Iran as it Combats Coronavirus
And regarding Iran’s IMF assistance request::