On March 17, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced further sanctions on Iran amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The sanctions are ostensibly in response to March 12 rocket attacks in Taji, Iraq, that killed two members of the U.S. occupation forces, for which it claims Iran is responsible. According to a statement by Pompeo, the sanctions target entities and individuals mostly related to Iran’s petrochemical industry that “provide revenue to the regime that it may use to fund terror and other destabilizing activities.” These include five companies based in the United Arab Emirates, three companies in China, three in Hong Kong and one in South Africa.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif denounced the new sanctions as taking the U.S. policy of putting “maximum pressure” on Iran to a “new level of inhumanity.” In a tweet, he condemned the Trump administration for “gleefully” taking pride in “killing Iranian citizens” on Nowruz, the Persian New Year, celebrated on March 20 this year. He further decried the U.S. policy for its “utter contempt for human life.”
“Washington’s increased pressure against Iran is a crime against humanity […] all the world should help each other to overcome this disease,” Reuters quoted an Iranian official as saying on March 20. The course of the pandemic shows that the U.S. sanctions not only endanger the people of Iran, but the peoples of the world, as the coronavirus does not respect borders and the pandemic can only be overcome if all countries and peoples unite, share resources, experiences and work collectively based on a spirit of mutual benefit and cooperation.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed on March 20 that the U.S. sanctions were not directed at medication or humanitarian assistance going into Iran. This is a sophistic claim to absolve the U.S. imperialists of their criminality — namely that U.S. financial sanctions have prevented Iran from buying the necessary supplies to combat the pandemic and shipping sanctions have interfered with humanitarian deliveries.
China has called on the U.S. to offer sanctions relief to Iran, with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Beijing tweeting on March 17 that the sanctions are “against humanitarianism and hampers Iran’s epidemic response,” as well as deliveries of aid by the UN and other organizations. In sharp contrast to the U.S. sanctions, China has sent a team of experts to assist Iran to fight COVID-19. It has also sent humanitarian aid, as have other countries.
Iran is one of the countries in the world hardest hit by COVID-19, and the hardest hit in the Middle East. As of March 20, Iran has seen at least 1,433 deaths from COVID-19, with 19,644 confirmed cases. A spokesperson from the Iranian Health Ministry said on March 17 that one person in Iran was dying “every 10 minutes” from the virus, with new infections increasing at a rate of 50 per hour.
(With files from news agencies. Photos: Code Pink)