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Coronavirus: 25 organisations press Trump administration to lift US sanctions on Iran

While Iran has pleaded for lifting of sanctions, US has stuck to its 'maximum pressure' campaign
Iran has become an epicentre of the coronavirus with almost 1,300 deaths and 18,000 infections (Reuters)
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Washington

A coalition of 25 organisations, including civil rights groups, charities and think-tanks, has come together to urge the Trump administration to lift sanctions on Iran to help it fight its coronavirus outbreak, which has killed more than a thousand and infected tens of thousands.

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) led an effort to send a letter to President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin calling for a temporary suspension of sanctions.

The letter was signed by various organisations, including the liberal Jewish group J Street, think-tank International Crisis Group, Oxfam America and the non-profit Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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"To help stem the continued spread of the virus inside Iran and beyond, we urge you to issue a time-bound suspension of those US sanctions that make it harder for ordinary Iranians to secure basic goods and services to weather the crisis," the letter read.

"Doing so would not just serve US interests in helping contain the further spread of the virus, but would also be a powerful humanitarian gesture to the more than 80 million Iranians suffering under the pandemic."

While the US administration has said there are no sanctions on medicine going to Iran, or on humanitarian assistance, many banks and companies have refrained from taking part in any such ventures out of fear of getting caught up in US secondary sanctions.

Iran has become a major epicentre of the coronavirus, officially known as Covid-19, with almost 1,300 deaths and more than 18,000 cases of infected persons.

Kianush Jahanpur, the Iranian health ministry's spokesperson, said that one person dies from the virus every 10 minutes.

While Iran has pleaded with the United Nations to urge the US to temporarily lift sanctions, and China and Russia have called on the US to do so as well, Washington has remained obdurate in its "maximum pressure" campaign.

'One simple step'

The US issued a new set of sanctions on Wednesday, aimed at the transport of petrochemicals from Iran.

Jamal Abdi, president of the NIAC, told Middle East Eye earlier this week that he was not surprised the administration was still "full speed ahead on sanctions", as Iran copes with a pandemic that grows deadlier every day. "Based on the Trump Administration's own metrics, the massacre being inflicted on Iranians by the coronavirus is the most stunning victory yet for 'maximum pressure'," Abdi told MEE.

While the coalition of groups appreciates the "limited steps" taken, which include encouraging foreign banks to establish humanitarian channels to Tehran and licensing humanitarian trade with the Central Bank of Iran, it said the sanctions have damaged the country's public health sector by blocking the sale of medicine and medical supplies needed to combat the epidemic.

'Based on the Trump Administration's own metrics, the massacre being inflicted on Iranians by the coronavirus is the most stunning victory yet for 'maximum pressure''

- Jamal Abdi, NIAC president

Sanctions have also more broadly impacted Iranians by closing down private businesses and forcing the value of Tehran's currency, the rial, to plummet.

The letter calls on the US to suspend all sanctions on Iran, including those on the country's oil and financial sectors, for a period of 120 days, to allow for the country to stave off economic devastation and fight the viral outbreak.

"Easing sanctions is one simple step that can be taken to serve the interests of the Iranian people and public health across the globe," the letter read.