Is Iran using the coronavirus to lobby for lifting of sanctions?
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s clerics -- President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif -- shrewdly appear to be investing significant political capital in a global campaign to have all sanctions against the theocratic regime lifted.
Iran clerics blame the imposition of economic sanctions by the United States to have caused a heavy toll in the Covid-19 public health crisis -- the confirmed cases are nearly 58,500 while deaths have risen to more than 3,600, as of April 6.
Taking the crisis as an issue with the West, Tehran has launched a new diplomatic campaign admitting its failure of clinical management of the pandemic.
The Iranian leaders are desperate for the US to lift its sanctions and are placing significant pressure on the international community to release financial resources, including those which are frozen by the Trump administration, as explained by Dr Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist based in the US.
Not very surprisingly, several US lawmakers, including Sen Bernie Sanders, Rep Ilhan Omar, Sen Elizabeth Warren, and Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have succumbed to the excuse given by the regime’s foreign minister Javad Zarif.
Fortunately, the US sanctions do not include medical or humanitarian restrictions, which could impact the fight against Covid-19, argues Iran watchers.
The outbreak of the virus has nothing to do with the much-talked-about US sanctions, instead of the clerical regime’s failure to contain the crisis efficiently.
“If the timeline of the Iran cleric’s activities is analyzed, it could be understood from the stubbornness of the regime,” says Hanif Jazayeri, an Iranian opposition activist based in London.
In January, the regime’s supreme leader authorized more than $215 million for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) backed Quds Force, engaged in proxy wars in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
Iran’s regime recently spent $67m redecorating the Zeynab Shrine in Syria with funds that could instead be used in the fight against the pandemic.
When the first case of a coronavirus victim was detected in mid-February in the religious city of Qom, authorities covered up its existence when they asked the people to take part in the sham parliamentary elections.
President Hassan Rouhani has overtly ruled out quarantining any cities and instead “donated” 3 million face masks to China as a “sign of long-term and traditional friendship between two countries.”
On the other hand, the IGRC has been caught hoarding millions of medical supplies, including disinfectants, gloves, and masks, while selling them on the black market at 10 times the price.
Ever since the outbreak, the Mahan Air, affiliated with the IRGC, has continued its flight to and from China, the geographical source of Covid-19.
Despite the conflict, the US has offered to support Iran during the coronavirus crisis via the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement and also exempted the donation of medicine to Iran from US sanctions. Unfortunately, the US offer was outright rejected by the regime in Tehran.
The WHO has sent Iran diagnostic kits and protective equipment for health care workers, including 7.5 tons of medical supplies. The United Arab Emirates also sent two planeloads of hygienic items to Iran, while Kuwait pledged to help Iran with $10m without any restriction.
Nevertheless, Iran’s Foreign Minister continues to threaten the international community that, if the sanctions against Iran are not lifted, the widespread coronavirus pandemic will endanger other countries’ national security.
The Rouhani-Zarif duo is trying to cash in on the coronavirus tragedy by pushing the US and the international community to lift all sanctions against the Iranian regime.
Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad, Email [email protected]