WASHINGTON – Dialysis machines, electrocardiographs and other medical supplies
can now be exported to Iran from the US without special permission required, the
Treasury Department announced on Thursday.
The addition of medical
supplies to the list of acceptable products may signal an interest from the
White House in the humanitarian plight suffered by Iranians as a result of harsh
Western sanctions, implemented to dissuade the Iranian government from
continuing its nuclear program.
But the move may also be a tactic from
Washington to gain moral leverage, as negotiations may soon resume
with a new
government in Tehran.
The list of goodwill exports has steadily grown
over the past two years as sanctions have tightened.
Wheat is the largest
direct export: food prices in Iran have increased 50-160 percent over the past
year, and wheat is the most important grain in the country, with the average
Iranian consuming 8.7 kilograms per month. Iran also had a dry 2012 for crops,
compounding agriculture costs and food prices further.
Despite the fact
that sanctions target the same Iranian banks and trading firms that facilitate
import transactions, the US has made efforts to lower wheat prices to make the
grain more affordable.
Drugs are the second largest product. Rarely have
Iranian officials admitted the need to buy Western-quality medicines, but in the
few comments made publicly, the government has cited restrictions on access as a
point of American cruelty.
Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen now says
that medical supplies, in addition to medicines, can be delivered quickly to
“Safeguarding humanitarian trade is an important element of our
policy [toward Iran],” Cohen said.
“We will continue to apply powerful
pressure on Iran while taking steps to ensure that we do not impact the
humanitarian needs of the Iranian population.”
The move comes shortly
before the inauguration of President-elect Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned on
reconciliation with the West over sanctions.
“Part of what Cohen is
trying to do is seize the upper hand, and show we have actually made some
overtures to Iran,” said Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy.
“It’s the US government preempting the
diplomatic tack from Iran that claims we’re hurting their people.”