TEHRAN – Democratic lawmakers have urged the outgoing president of the United States to show leniency and allow coronavirus aid to be sent to Iran as the White House drew up a plan to step up sanctions on Iran in the remaining weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week, Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with 73 other House and Senate Democrats, called on the Trump administration to issue a worldwide temporary general license that would cover testing kits, respirators, and personal protective equipment needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the Foreign Policy magazine reported.
“The pandemic has laid bare the ways in which our broad application of sanctions is undermining public health systems, imposing sweeping economic penalties that restrict commerce in the material and equipment necessary to respond to the coronavirus and harming ordinary people,” the lawmakers wrote. “Blocking or slowing the flow of medical resources neither enables an effective outbreak response around the world nor does it serve our national security interests.”
The letter came after news agencies reported that the Trump administration is planning to slap a long string of new sanctions on Iran in the 10 weeks left until Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, a policy intended to crater possible efforts by Biden to go soft on Iran.
Citing Israeli sources, Axios reported that the Trump administration believes such a “flood” of sanctions will increase pressure on the Iranians and make it harder for the Biden administration to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
But Trump’s efforts to turn up the heat on Iran amid the Coronavirus pandemic stand in contrast to the strategy of Biden, who, according to Foreign Policy, has called on Trump to create licenses to allow goods to flow from pharmaceutical and medical device companies into Iran, and to create dedicated channels for banks and service firms to allow Iranians access to life-saving medical treatment.
“It is bad enough that the Trump administration abandoned the Iran nuclear deal in favor of a ‘maximum pressure’ strategy that has badly backfired, encouraging Iran to become even more aggressive and restart its nuclear program,” Biden wrote in a Medium post in April. “It makes no sense, in a global health crisis, to compound that failure with cruelty by inhibiting access to needed humanitarian assistance.”
On Monday, Biden called for the immediate passage of the HEROES Act, a coronavirus stimulus package approved by the House earlier this year that includes $10 billion in foreign coronavirus assistance. Garcia, the Democratic lawmaker, has also supported the use of International Monetary Fund (IMF) special drawing rights to give financial relief to nations desperate to pay for much-needed medical imports.
In March the Iranian government asked the IMF for $5 billion in emergency loans to help it combat the coronavirus and mitigate its economic impact. But the U.S. blocked Iran’s request.