An Update from CUFI Action Fund
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We’ve all heard and seen stories substantiating the belief that the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing out the best and worst in people. The same is true in the context of governments.

This week, a group of American and European diplomats issued a letter calling for the Trump administration to relieve sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran. The CUFI Action Fund opposes this move.

At first glance, one might be inclined to support sanctions relief, but scratch just a bit beneath the surface and the arguments in favor of such a move are hollow. Those in favor of relieving sanctions on Iran at this time would have to ignore several key factors to advance their position. In this week’s Action Update, we examine four central facts ignored by sanctions relief advocates.

Sanctions Already Contain Humanitarian Carve Outs

Food, medicine and the like are already exempt from American sanctions. Moreover, in response to the pandemic, a month ago, the US and Switzerland set up a “channel to export food and medicine” to Iran.

Sanctions relief advocates have concluded that the reporting requirements associated with this channel are “stringent.” We agree, but we don’t think that’s a bad thing. For the sake of the Iranian people, reporting requirements associated with Iran’s imports should be stringent. The regime is an Islamist theocratic kleptocracy which has a track record of hoarding international assistance for the ruling elite.

Iran has Rejected Assistance

On March 22nd, Doctors Without Borders sent a team of medical professionals and a full-fledged inflatable hospital – among other supplies – to Iran. The Islamic Republic rejected the aid and expelled the good Samaritans.

Likewise, Iran has rejected offers of assistance from the US, and did so again on Monday (ironically, the same day sanctions relief advocates published their letter).

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi was quoted by Reuters as saying, “Iran has never asked and will not ask America to help Tehran in its fight against the outbreak ... But America should lift all its illegal unilateral sanctions on Iran.”

Iran’s position is clear: yes to sanctions relief, no to direct medical assistance.

It’s the Regime…

Around the same time the regime was telling Doctors Without Borders to go home, Iranian officials were also busy stealing $1 billion in European assistance that was intended to combat the novel coronavirus according to Secretary Pompeo. 

Why reject the plane full of doctors and medical supplies? Because it’s a lot easier to steal cash than it is to steal an inflatable hospital.

Why demand sanctions relief but decline direct medical aid? Because the easing of sanctions can be manipulated to prop up the regime - as can any loans secured under the auspices of COVID-19.

The simplest explanation is that the regime is interested in helping itself, not its people.

Sanctions Relief Would Not Help the Iranian People

If sanctions relief was the missing ingredient needed to save the Iranian people from the horrors of COVID-19, the CUFI Action Fund would evaluate the situation differently. But wishful thinking does not a coherent foreign policy make.

Sanctions are not the reason the regime has lied to their people and the world about the severity of the virus in the Islamic Republic. Sanctions, likewise, cannot be blamed for Tehran’s repeated rejection of actual help for the Iranian people. And if leaders in Tehran wanted more funds to go to their battle against the Virus they could simply stop funding their military adventurism across the Middle East.

The coronavirus has brought out the worst in the regime that keeps a boot on the Iranian people’s throats. And the evil Republic will only use sanctions relief to enrich itself, support terror and advance its imperial ambitions.

Don’t just take our word for this but listen to the people of Iran. According to the State Department, recently, #KhameneiVirus and #IslamicRepublicVirus were “the most prominent hashtags used in Iran.” Likewise, graffiti around Tehran reads, “The Islamic Republic in Iran is the real coronavirus.”

If you want to help the Iranian people, don’t allow the regime to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a means to shore up its oppressive foundation. Rather, keep standing with every Iranian who ever took to the streets to protest Tehran’s tyrants by maintaining the maximum pressure policy. 

CUFI Action Fund Team

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