The case against lifting sanctions on Iran's clerical regime - analysis

Zarif: Economic sanctions the US has in force amid coronavirus pandemic are ‘medical terrorism’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, March 4, 2020 (photo credit: OFFICIAL PRESIDENT WEBSITE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, March 4, 2020
BERLIN – The coronavirus crisis has revealed the Iranian regime’s strategy and outright fabrications designed to hoodwink world powers into providing sanctions relief, Iran experts said this week.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif claims that the “Islamic Republic has $100 billion in strategic reserves. So why is he begging for $5 billion from World Bank & making a song and dance about $500 million from Britain and just $5 million from European Union? And why doesn’t [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei release some of the loot?” prominent Iranian author and dissident Amir Taheri tweeted.
Analysts have asked why Khamenei, who controls more than $200b. in assets and an additional $91b. in Iran’s sovereign-wealth fund, allows this vast fortune to remain idle while ordinary Iranians suffer from a mushrooming deadly disease and a failing economy.
Iran’s leaders are going at full throttle with their campaign to exploit the coronavirus pandemic to pressure the US to lift sanctions imposed on Tehran for its illegal nuclear program, support of international terrorism and ballistic-missile development.
Zarif has called economic sanctions the US has in force amid the coronavirus pandemic “medical terrorism.”
Statements from a long list of Iranian Health Ministry representatives suggest the opposite is true. Take, for example, Saeid Namaki, Iran’s health minister. On Monday, he said: “We have not faced a shortage of special drugs needed to treat this [coronavirus] disease.”
On Wednesday, Pasteur Institute of Iran director Alireza Biglari said: “If our neighbors and regional countries require help, the Health Ministry is also prepared to export them [COVID-19 test kits],” Bloomberg reported. Five medical research companies in Iran are each producing at least 80,000 kits a week, he said.
In a Tuesday New York Post editorial titled “There’s just no helping Iran’s evil regime,” the paper wrote: “Last week, French-based Doctors Without Borders said it was sending a 50-bed inflatable hospital, and France was offering more aid. Yet Iran huffed that it didn’t need the help and besides, the French group – wait for it – is part of a spy network.”
The German TV news service Tagesschau headlined a bizarre article on its website: “Coronavirus and the sanctions: Iran needs help, the US blocks.” The reader needed to reach the final sentence of the article to learn: “So far, Tehran has refused any US aid unless sanctions are lifted.”
What the Iranian regime fails to say in its tirades against the US is that there are several humanitarian and medical channels available for sending aiding to the Islamic Republic.
Since February, a Swiss-run operation permits goods to be transferred to Iran. On Tuesday, the UK, Germany and France sent medical aid to Iran using the INSTEX financial mechanism set up last year to circumvent US sanctions.
IRAN is the epicenter of the novel coronavirus in the Middle East. On Wednesday, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpour said the death toll had reached 3,036 and the number of confirmed cases was 47,593. The real numbers are believed to be significantly higher.
Writing for Foreign Policy, my Foundation for Defense of Democracies colleagues Mark Dubowitz and Richard Goldberg noted: “Iran’s clerical dictatorship cares more about its own survival than it cares about the welfare of the Iranian people. But you wouldn’t know it from the chorus of Americans and Europeans exploiting the coronavirus crisis in Iran to push the Trump administration to lift sanctions against Iran. This is fundamentally dishonest – the sanctions do not restrict medical supplies and other forms of humanitarian aid – and plays into the hands of a brutal regime.”
Dubowitz and Goldberg deconstructed and debunked the pro-Iran regime talking points.
“A recent analysis of pharmaceutical trade between Europe and Iran shows little change between 2011 and 2019 despite periods of imposition, suspension and return of sanctions,” they wrote.
“If Iran is experiencing challenges in convincing banks to process transactions with its trade partners, perhaps it’s because Tehran is determined to use its financial sector for money laundering and terrorism finance – concerns that led the Financial Action Task Force, a 39-country anti-money laundering organization, to recommend last month that the global financial community take stringent measures to defend itself against Iran’s illicit practices,” they wrote.
The article cited a laundry list of examples showing the mullahs’ misuse of their medical and pharmaceutical industries for illegal machinations that do not benefit Iranians.
For example, in 2018, “the US Treasury Department revealed that an Iranian medical and pharmaceutical company was being used to facilitate illicit payments to Russia in a scheme to help Syria finance purchases of oil.”
Sanctions advocates have long argued that the Islamic Republic is a dictatorship based on pathological lies that knows how to exploit a crisis. A flashback to January helps to illustrate the inner workings of the regime.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down a Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after takeoff from Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport, murdering all 176 on board. The regime denied it shot down the plane until it was forced to admit the truth.
Iran’s regime has deceived the international community, and now it seeks a $5b. International Monetary Fund bailout. The pro-sanctions community is wondering: Will the international community allow Khamenei, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Zarif to hoodwink them yet another time?