Sunday, 29 March, 2020

Confusion over Iran waiver as Russia blames US for virus flare-up

Russia has called for urgent removal of US sanctions against Iran, arguing that the bans have led to the flare-up of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

“The serious situation in Iran regarding the coronavirus is largely a manufactured situation stemming from Washington’s unilateral sanctions,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Friday.

Zakharova said the “unprecedented political and economic pressure” on Iran allowed the outbreak to take hold in the country.

Iran is unable to buy medicine and medical equipment due to the US economic sanctions which the Trump administration has been continuously tightening as part of “maximum pressure” on Tehran.

The coronavirus outbreak has prompted various international leaders, figures and groups to call for Washington to suspend its sanctions.

Earlier this week, eight countries sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, warning about the negative impact of unilateral sanctions on the international anti-coronavirus efforts.

The UN chief has said himself the sanctions are heightening the health risks for millions of people and weakening the global efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic.

In a tweet on Saturday, Iran’s Ambassador to France Bahram Qassemi said “those who still speak of sanctions and maximum pressure should accept responsibility for the death of thousands of people”.

Despite the international outcry, Washington imposed its latest round of coercive measures against Iran on Thursday.

Sanctions waiver? 

The new sanctions came after reports said Washington had granted waivers to some countries to release frozen Iranian funds for urgent medical supplies.

“The efforts of some countries have led to the release of some of the Iranian central bank’s money,” a source told London-based Middle East Eye news outlet on Friday.

“Those countries will receive a sanctions waiver [for releasing Iran’s frozen assets], this has been granted and we are following this issue,” the source added.

The conservative US news website the Washington Free Beacon, however, slapped down the reports as “inaccurate”, citing an unnamed State Department official. 

“The US State Department shot down ‘inaccurate’ reports claiming the Trump administration would soon be granting special sanctions exceptions to give Iran access to cash assets as it struggles to fight the coronavirus, according to information exclusively provided to the Washington Free Beacon,” the hardline pro-Israeli outlet said.

European diplomats in Tehran, speaking to the Middle East Eye, declined to confirm or reject the reports, only saying Washington was likely to grant sanctions waivers for Iran “behind the scenes” if it were to do so.

“There is a lot of pressure right now to help Iran in this difficult situation,” one diplomat said.

Iran in close cooperation with UN

Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht-Ravanchi said Friday Tehran is in close cooperation with the UN and the World Health Organization in its efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

He said Iran is fighting the pandemic with a proper supply of medical supplies and equipment, but the sanctions have limited Iran’s use of “its capacities to their fullest extent”.

“This issue is the subject of recent discussions with the UN secretary general; we have asked for an initiative seeking to suspend criminal sanctions as a matter of international responsibility,” he said.

The UN chief has been following the matter in calls with US officials, Takht-Ravanchi added.

Containing the COVID-19 pandemic requires the cooperation of all countries and unilateral sanctions only weaken international efforts against the disease, he said.

Takht-Ravanchi noted that calls against US sanctions - specifically those targeting Iran - have spread across world leaders and figures, even within the US.

“We are seeing day by day that sanctions are turning out to be a failed policy. It’s those who are behind such policies who are being isolated,” he added.

Responding to a question about Washington’s claims of allowing Iran access to humanitarian supplies, Takht-Ravanchi said Washington’s sanctions have effectively banned humanitarian aid from reaching the country.

“The Americans have to prove their claims with actions and not just words,” he noted.

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