US okays medical exports to Iran as nuke talks set to resume

Dialysis machines, electrocardiographs and other medical supplies can now be exported to Iran from the US without special permission.

Electrocardiograph (EKG) machine 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Electrocardiograph (EKG) machine 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 Iran.
“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.”