Nine members of Congress have signed on to a letter asking the Trump administration to suspend U.S. sanctions on Iran amid the COVID-19 crisis. The letter comes amidst a wider effort by activists to raise awareness of the issue and pressure the Treasury Department to take immediate action.
COVID-19 has already killed over 1,500 people in Iran and the sanctions are making the situation even more dire. Narges Bajoghli, an assistant professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University, and Mahsa Rouhi, a research fellow at the Nonproliferation and Nuclear Policy program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, detail the the horrific reality in todays New York Times:
The Trump administration claims that its sanctions do not hinder medicine and humanitarian trade. But since the sanctions prevent international financial transactions and shipping, any trade, including that of medicines and medical equipment, is almost impossible. Several companies that supply the medical equipment required to fight coronavirus have stopped shipping to Iran because their banks refuse to handle the transactions.
The Trump administration’s unwillingness to ease restrictions when Iran faces this debilitating crisis will severely hobble efforts at engagement for years to come and stain the reputation of the United States as a global leader.
The letter, which was sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. “Rather than continue to pile on sanctions in the Iranian people’s hour of need, we urge you to substantially suspend sanctions on Iran in a humanitarian gesture to the Iranian people to better enable them to fight the virus, it reads, Sanctions relief should encompass major sectors of the Iranian economy, including those impacting civilian industries, Iran’s banking sector and exports of oil, and should last for at least as long as health experts believe the crisis will continue. Failure to do so risks inhibiting the delivery of key humanitarian goods, and putting the Iranian people into further health and economic peril.”
It was signed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA), Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA).
Activists have launched a “80 Hours for 80 Million Lives” campaign, which calls on individuals to collectively make 80 hours of calls to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and demand an end to the sanctions. They’ve also scheduled a “Twitter storm” for this afternoon using the hashtag #EndCOVIDSanctions.
🚨 URGENT🚨 A new letter by @AOC @Ilhan & others *JUST DROPPED* calling on Treasury Sec @stevenmnuchin1 to lift sanctions NOW on Iran so docs can fight #COVID19. Your reps have until Wed 2pm to sign on! Join us for a twitter storm calling our reps to do so & #EndCOVIDSanctions! pic.twitter.com/HqITrkfjTV
— Hoda Katebi هدی کاتبی (@hodakatebi) March 23, 2020