Sending Office: Honorable Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
As Iran faces medical supply shortages due to sanctions, urge the Trump Administration to grant temporary sanctions relief
Current bicameral signers (24): Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, Omar, Warren, Huffman, Markey, Castro, Pressley, Lee, Tlaib, McGovern, Grijalva, Pocan, Beyer, Jayapal, Rush, DeFazio, Khanna, Johnson, Foster, Norton, Connolly, Watson Coleman, Davis, Garcia, Velazquez
Endorsing Organizations: Just Foreign Policy, J Street, National Iranian American Council, Win Without War, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Ploughshares Fund, Indivisible, Peace Action
We requestfully request that you add your name to this urgent bicameral sign-on letter to the Trump Administration, urging them to follow the example set by the Bush and Obama Administrations and grant temporary sanctions relief for Iran as they confront the coronavirus crisis.
Iran has been among the hardest hit of any country, with conservative estimates putting the toll well over 1,500 dead and 20,000 infected. Experts agree that the sanctions have severely harmed their ability to address the crisis. According to Human Rights Watch, the United States ‘maximum pressure’ campaign has “drastically constrained the ability of Iranian entities to finance humanitarian imports, including vital medicines and medical equipment.”
The letter urges the Administration to enact substantial temporary sanctions relief, including lifting sanctions impacting civilian industries, Iran’s banking sector, and exports of oil, all of which inhibit the delivery of humanitarian goods and endanger the Iranian people’s survival. It also asks the Administration to consider temporary suspension for other sanctioned countries that are facing outbreaks.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Ilhan Omar Jared Huffman Joaquin Castro
Members of Congress
Dear Secretary Pompeo and Secretary Mnuchin,
The spread of coronavirus around the globe poses a severe threat to the United States and necessitates a comprehensive global response. As a result, we believe far more action is needed to contain and treat Coronavirus in Iran, which has emerged as an epicenter of the virus. While the Iranian government’s official statistics say that [over 1,500 have died and 20,000 have been infected], it is likely that the virus has spread much further.
With neighboring countries ravaged by war, medical systems either in disarray and underfunded, and the constant migration of pilgrims and immigrant workers, the virus’ further spread in the Middle East poses additional serious risk to both human life and to broader regional economic and political stability, which may in turn negatively impact the economic and security interests of the US and our allies. For instance, there are reports that the virus is spreading from Iran to Afghanistan, endangering our troops and mission in that country. Longtime foe of Iran, the United Arab Emirates, has recognized the potential negative impact of the Coronavirus crisis in Iran and has taken an active role in facilitating humanitarian aid shipments to Tehran.
The Iranian government has made numerous errors in their handling of the crisis, including by failing to act swiftly or take sufficient quarantine measures. However, sweeping U.S. sanctions have also harmed Iran’s public health sector by limiting their ability to import medical devices and medicine manufactured in the West.
According to an October 2019 Human Rights Watch report, the United States ‘maximum pressure’ campaign has “drastically constrained the ability of Iranian entities to finance humanitarian imports, including vital medicines and medical equipment.” With so many restrictions and sanctions to contend with, Iran’s medical industry has been limited in its ability to purchase equipment rapidly and adapt to changing circumstances on the ground in fighting the pandemic.
Additionally, by targeting an entire economy that supports more than 80 million people, U.S. sanctions make it harder for ordinary Iranians to obtain basic necessities like food and hygienic supplies that they need to survive.
We support the Treasury Department’s decision to exempt humanitarian trade involving the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) from sanctions, which partially reversed a deeply concerning move in September. This humanitarian trade exemption reflects an understanding that the spread of Coronavirus represents a shared threat and that U.S. sanctions were complicating efforts to get humanitarian supplies to the Iranian people. We also support the U.S. offer of direct aid to Iran to combat the spread of the virus.
However, we were deeply concerned by the decision to impose new sanctions against Iran on March 18. Such a decision is both callous and short-sighted in light of the seriousness of the crisis and the shared nature of the threat. On the same day, the United Kingdom joined other countries around the world in voicing support for sanctions relief.
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. 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. We further urge you to work closely with domestic and international commercial and financial actors as well as partner governments in order to ensure that there is a practically accessible channel for the export of medical goods to Iran.
Additionally, we encourage the U.S. to find a way to deliver aid directly to the Iranian people to support the Iranian people’s fight against Coronavirus, as many other nations have done. There is precedent for both of these steps, as the George W. Bush administration eased sanctions and delivered aid to Iran following a deadly earthquake near Bam in 2003.
We should also consider suspending sanctions in other countries facing outbreaks to reduce human suffering.
Pandemics know no borders. Allowing this crisis to become more dire in Iran threatens significant harm not only to the people of Iran but also to people in the United States and around the world. The U.S. should not let our many disputes with the government of Iran or others stand in the way of actions that can materially help innocent people weather a pandemic. Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to your response.
[Members of Congress]