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US indifferent to welfare of Iranian civilians

Nov 21,2018 - Last updated at Nov 21,2018

The re-imposition of US sanctions on Iran has already imperilled the lives of Iranian civilians. Erin Cunningham, writing in the Washington Post on Saturday, reported that a bank which had handled payments for Iran's imports of essential medications and other humanitarian goods is being shunned by foreign suppliers because of fear of being fined by the overzealous US Treasury Department.

Although the harsh US sanctions regime allows Iran to import food, medicine and medical equipment, foreign banks and suppliers are leery of doing business with partners in Iran due to the ever-looming shadow of the US Treasury Department. Cunningham points out that in recent months, some European banks have refused to process payments from Iranian firms that are exempt from sanctions out of fear of US penalties. European banks and firms argue that US officials can swoop down at any time to blacklist an Iranian bank or company, making it difficult or nearly impossible to do business.

Cunningham observed, "Among the concerns facing Iranians is whether they will be able to continue importing advanced medicine and equipment used to treat chronic illnesses." Iran's own pharmaceutical industry also imports raw materials to manufacture medications. She revealed that Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had received letters from four European pharmaceutical firms ending business with Iran. This is exactly what happened before sanctions were lifted in January 2016, when sanctions eased due to the nuclear deal. The situation is, essentially, back to square one.

The Trump administration's two rounds of sanctions are not meant to punish Iran for violating the 2015 deal providing for the dismantling of Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of UN and international sanctions. Iran is keeping its side of the bargain. The US has withdrawn from the deal to exert extreme pressure on Iran to halt its ballistic missile programme and end its backing for Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon.

The administration is stepping up its campaign against Iran by declaring Iran is in breach of the 1997 treaty banning chemical weapons. So far, however, Washington has not mentioned inspections by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, for which the treaty provides. The US signed the treaty and, since 1985, has destroyed most but not all of stockpiles. Therefore, the US has failed to honour its obligations under the treaty.

Iran is accused by the US and others of planning terror plots in Europe and of supporting the Houthi rebels in Yemen, a claim most experts dismiss. The US also demands all Iran-backed forces must withdraw from Syria and makes it a condition for the evacuation by US forces of north-eastern and eastern Syria. 

On November 9, after the imposition of the second round of Donald Trump's sanctions, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said sanctions are designed to halt Iran's oil exports to Europe and sanction 50 Iranian banks and 200 individuals. Pompeo also said the Iranian "leadership has to make a decision that they want their people to eat", making it clear that the US has no concerns about the welfare of Iranian civilians.

Pompeo's heartless declaration echoed Madeleine Albright, who served in his post during Bill Clinton's presidency. She said during a television interview that punitive sanctions imposed in 1990 on Iraq, which killed half a million Iraqi children, were "worth it" if the US agenda was achieved. This attitude forced the UN to adopt an oil-for-food programme that permitted Iraq to export a limited amount of oil in order to earn revenue to buy food and medicine. But even this programme failed to meet Iraq's needs, particularly with respect to medicines, medical equipment and medical devices.

Economic sanctions are blunt weapons that rarely compel target governments to submit to demands by executing powers. The US currently sanctions Iran, Russia, Venezuela and Cuba. The objective in Iran of at least one influential member of the Trump administration, security adviser John Bolton, is "regime change", although there has been no thought about any replacement. Bolton was one of the prime movers of George W. Bush's disastrous war on Iraq, which has slain hundreds of thousands of innocents in Iraq and Syria and destabilised the region.

Iran is almost certainly the country most likely on this list to survive US impositions. Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Tehran's rulers have striven mightily to make the country economically self-reliant. Although the country's economy has suffered from mismanagement and corruption, Iran has been relatively successful in this quest. Iran is also a vast country with considerable resources and a population of 81 million. Therefore, it has a large internal market and basic fuel and food supplies.

Former UK ambassador to Iran Richard Dalton wrote in the Guardian, "Iran will remain basically stable despite the surge in inflation and tough recession that the [International Monetary Fund] says are coming down the line. Discontent, and maybe protests, will significantly increase. Iran's leaders will, nevertheless, try to weather the storm." He expects that Iran will "hunker down" until the 2020 US election, when Donald Trump could depart the White House, stick to the nuclear deal and resist provoking Washington.

Meanwhile, Europe, Russia and Asia are fed up with Trump's authoritarian approach to international affairs, including his unilateral renunciation of the nuclear deal at a time Iran has been abiding by its terms. The other signatories of the nuclear deal, Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany and the European Union, have been not only alienated by Trump's action, but also by the administration's refusal to guarantee Iranian imports of basic food and medical supplies. The US State Department's envoy on Iran, Brian Hook, a hardliner on Iran, dismissed concerns about the impact of blanket sanctions. This is precisely what happened under previous administrations and ailing Iranians, in particular, suffered from inconsistent availability of cancer, diabetes, heart and other medications.

EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has vowed to find ways to maintain unsanctioned trade with Iran. The EU has been trying to establish a mechanism allowing firms and banks to clear payments for humanitarian and other goods outside the dollar zone. In response, the Trump administration has threatened to subvert any such mechanisms.

Turkey, India, Italy, Iraq, Japan, South Korea, China and Greece have been granted temporary waivers by the US, allowing them to continue buying Iranian oil for limited periods. This means Iran will continue to sell its crude and receive revenue. Iraq, which is closely tied to Iran on both the political and economic levels, has also agreed to nearly double trade in the coming year from $12 billion to $20 billion, bartering Iraqi food stuffs for Iranian oil and gas. Iraq also imports food, agricultural products, home appliances, air conditioners and car spare parts from Iran, to the value of $6 billion.

Before the nuclear deal was signed, the US had the support of the international community for sanctioning Iran. This backing has evaporated due to the nuclear deal. Sanctions depend on widespread support and adherence. While Trump's sanctions may have some success due to Treasury Department bullying, opponents of the regime will not only resist, but also deeply resent his effort to dictate how they should deal with Iran.

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