Danon: Iran must halt nuke program for coronavirus-related sanction-relief

Tehran’s ability to treat coronavirus victims is hampered by US sanctions.

Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, speaks at the Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israel's Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, speaks at the Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York
Any sanctions relief for Iran during the coronavirus pandemic  must be linked to a pledge by Tehran that it would halt its nuclear program and its terrorist activities, Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon told The Jerusalem Post.
He spoke out in the aftermath of an appeal by Tehran to the UN to help ensure that the United States eases its crippling sanctions against Iran.
"Israel remains in favor of providing humanitarian aid to the Iranian people,” Danon said. “But as long as the regime continues its nuclear and terrorist programs, sanctions must remain in place."
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric confirmed to reporters that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had called UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres this past week “to discuss the matter of sanctions.” 
Dujarric explained that Guterres was “aware of the shortage of medicine and medical equipment in Iran that makes it more difficult to contain the outbreak. He appeals to all members of the international community to facilitate and support Iran’s efforts at this critical moment.”
With 35,408 infections and 2,517 deaths, Iran has the sixth-highest number of coronavirus cases and the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 deaths. Its ability to treat coronavirus victims is hampered by US sanctions.
Zarif took to Twitter to accuse the US of practicing “economic terrorism” against during the time of a pandemic. 
“Even the world's largest economy needs others to help it fight the pandemic, yet refuses to halt its #EconomicTerrorism against Iran,” Zarif wrote.
“Does the US want a 'forever pandemic?' Moral imperative to stop observing the bully's sanctions,” he said.
Earlier in the day at a virtual G20 summit on COVID-19, Guterres called for a “global ceasefire” so that countries could focus their efforts on halting the spread of the virus.
"I also appeal for the waving of sanctions that can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic,” he said.
Earlier in the week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a similar call, especially mentioning her concern about Iran.
“Human rights reports have repeatedly emphasized the impact of sectoral sanctions on access to essential medicines and medical equipment – including respirators and protective equipment for health-care workers,” she said.
"More than 50 Iranian medics have died” and the virus is spreading from Iran to neighboring countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, Bachelet said.
Iran is not under UN sanctions, but it would like to see a public UN Security Council discussion about the US sanctions, which have remained in place during the pandemic.
On Thursday, the United States blacklisted five Iran- and Iraq-based companies and 15 individuals for supporting terrorist groups, its third round of sanctions on Iranian targets in the last two weeks.
In a statement, the US Treasury Department accused those targeted of supporting the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force elite foreign paramilitary and espionage arm and of transferring lethal aid to Iran-backed militias in Iraq such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, all of which Washington deems foreign terrorist organizations.
The Pentagon blamed Kataib Hezbollah for a March 11 rocket attack that killed one British and two US personnel in Iraq.
US officials say they plan to keep sanctioning Iran to try to force it to curb its nuclear, missile and regional activities despite the coronavirus outbreak.
Treasury accused those designated of "malign activities" including selling Iranian oil to Syria, smuggling arms to Iraq and Yemen and backing Iraqi militias that attack US forces.
The sanctions freeze any of their US-held assets and generally bar Americans from dealing with them.
The five targeted companies are Mada’in Novin Traders and Reconstruction Organization of the Holy Shrines in Iraq, both of which are based in Iran and Iraq; Bahjat al Kawthar Company for Construction and Trading Ltd, also known as Kosar Company, and Al Khamael Maritime Services, which are both based in Iraq; and Middle East Saman Chemical Company, which is based in Iran.
The action also blacklists 15 individuals who are associated with the companies or officials of the Quds Force and Kataib Hezbollah.
Humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions Washington reimposed on Tehran after President Donald Trump abandoned Iran's 2015 multilateral deal to limit its nuclear program.
However, broader U.S. sanctions deter many firms from humanitarian trade with Iran.
The United States and Switzerland this year finalized a Swiss channel to get humanitarian goods to Iran. As of March 19, one transaction had been processed.
Separately, Washington renewed a sanctions waiver letting Iraq import electricity from Iran but vowed to blacklist anyone who used it to help terrorist groups.
Reuters contributed to this report.