Pandemic calls for a humane US approach | Michael Jansen - GulfToday

Pandemic calls for a humane US approach

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Najaf-Ramadan

Muslims gather at the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf to mark Lailat Al Qadr. AFP

The use of punitive sanctions to exert “maximum pressure” on Iran to capitulate to Trump administration demands has failed miserably. Iran not only refuses to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal but also rejects dialogue with the administration. The two sides stir tensions by sniping at each other although neither seeks war.

Having withdrawn two years ago from the deal for dismantling 90 per cent of Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions, Donald Trump and his sidekick Secretary of State Mike Pompeo propose to revoke the provision, expiring in October, which imposes an arms embargo on Iran. Pompeo contends that if Iran is permitted to import weapons, Iran will supply arms to groups the US regards as “terrorists.” 

The US has circulated a draft Security Council resolution to UN members calling for the arms embargo to be renewed. Iran has threatened to pull out of the nuclear accord if the embargo is reinstated. While Russia and, perhaps, China would veto such a measure, Britain and France are likely to come under US pressure to abstain although they disagree with Trump’s punitive and provocative policy on Iran.

If Iran acts on its threat, Pompeo has said the administration could re-enter the accord in order to re-impose UN sanctions which were supposed to be lifted when the accord came into effect in January 2016. The US would argue that Iran has failed to live up to its commitments since 2019 by exceeding the limits set for its stockpile of enriched uranium, enriching it to a higher level than agreed, developing new centrifuges to accelerate processing, and resuming heavy water production at its Arak plant, which was meant to become a research facility. Tehran only adopted a phased loosening of restrictions because the US had renounced the deal and imposed vicious sanctions that have prevented Iran from exporting its oil, driven its economy into negative growth and deprived Iranians of essential goods and services.

While five of the six original signatories of the nuclear deal have the option of re-imposing UN/international sanctions, the US does not due to Trump’s withdrawal and is unlikely to be allowed to rejoin the accord.

Furthermore, Iran has the right to pull back from implementation if any of the six signatories — the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — reneges on its commitments. Tehran tolerated US bad behaviour from the outset because Iran did receive benefits from the lifting of some but not all sanctions.  Iran’s gains were limited largely because even the Obama administration did not abide by the terms of the deal. Instead, it used its weight in the global financial sector to discourage European and Asian businesses and banks from doing business with Iran, denying it access to funds and markets.

Trump not only violated the deal  — which is an international treaty backed by a Security Council resolution — by unilaterally pulling out but also slapping on sanctions with the aim of compelling Iran to accept 12 totally unacceptable demands put forward by Pompeo. Europe, which opposes the administration’s anti-Iran policies, has tried but failed to ease the impact of US sanctions, leaving Iran little choice but to endure for another six months and hope that Trump will be voted out of office in November.

Trump’s presumed Democratic rival in the November presidential election, Joe Biden has joined the call by members of his party to ease economic sanctions on Iran to enable the country to contain the coronavirus pandemic.  He said the US has a moral obligation to provide humanitarian aid to all peoples facing infection wherever they live. Before the virus appeared on the global scene, Biden had called for resolving disputes with Iran by diplomatic means rather than pressure, punishment and bluster.

Biden and his colleagues are right.  Unless the virus is contained and conquered in Iran, it will remain a threat to the entire region and beyond and continue to spread.  If COVID-19 thrives in one country, its spread cannot be halted. Iran was — and is — the chief COVID-19 epicentre in West Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Biden recommended that the US should suspend its campaign of “maximum pressure” to (1) allow licences to be issued to medical supply companies so they can deal with Iran (2) create a mechanism for banks, insurers and firms to enable Iran to sell enough oil to purchase supplies, and (3) provide guidance to aid organisations to reassure them that they will not be punished while providing assistance to Iran for its efforts to overcome the virus.

Naturally, Trumpites have attacked Biden, who was President Barack Obama’s deputy when the Iran nuclear accord was signed and launched. Therefore, Trump — who has pledged to tear up the nuclear deal — is hitting back at both Biden and Obama while sanctioning Iran. Trump is determined to carry out his pledge before the coming election so he can declare a victory over not only Iran but Obama and Biden.  Never mind that this would be a hollow victory if the coronavirus continues to menace the region and the world because Iran — where cases are soaring — remains a dangerous centre of contagion since it does not have the means to curb and contain the virus.

Trump does not care how many people will die due to Iran sanctions just as he is not moved by potential deaths of US citizens when he urges US states to reopen for business. Ever since he moved into the White House, Trump has been motivated by two things: getting re-elected in 2020 and destroying Obama’s positive political legacy.

On the latter, Trump has succeeded partially by pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and by undermining Obama’s effort to provide health care for tens of millions of US citizens who could not afford to pay high rates demanded by private insurers. While the coronavirus rages, Trump’s efforts to destroy Obama’s legacy policies could cost not only US lives but also the lives of tens of thousands of hapless people in the Gulf, West Asia, and the wider world. Trump does not give a damn.

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