Sanctions Charades: Iran’s Diversion Campaign on COVID-19

Virus photo by Fusion Medical Animation

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique and acute challenges to the world. Many democratic countries have successfully responded to contain the crisis. Iran’s regime, on the other hand, has reared its ugly head yet again by deflecting responsibility and downplaying the virus, opting instead to blame the United States and economic sanctions for the ongoing public health crisis in the country.

According to the latest data, over 70,000 Iranians have died due to the regime’s incompetence in handling the outbreak. Considering the country’s population size and its startling death count, Iran now has the second highest mortality rate in the world.

Instead of addressing the people’s needs, the regime diverts attention from the health crisis by inflaming diplomatic tensions with the United States. Iran has often absolved responsibility for domestic crises by blaming American foreign policy and economic sanctions. Historically, these diversion tactics have been used to mitigate the regime’s accountability for the people’s woes.

Iran’s latest attempt to divert attention from its own mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis is their ludicrous complaint to the International Court of Justice, suing the United States for imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic; insinuating that sanctions are responsible for the outbreak in Iran.

Unsurprisingly, some American policymakers, such as Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), have propagated the regime’s narratives regarding sanctions. These representatives have naively chosen to disregard the regime’s crimes or, much worse, they intentionally have ignored the past four decades of the regime’s malicious propaganda peddled at the expense of the Iranian people.

The Islamic Republic has several mouthpieces who regurgitate its talking points to American audiences. For example, the regime’s lobby in the United States, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), has been quick to blame the United States as the enemy of the Iranian people and has aggressively lobbied for sanctions to be lifted. Iran and NIAC have a history of this — for nearly every crisis affecting Iran, they attribute it to the United States’ foreign policy and its economic sanctions. Never once have they seriously attributed any misfortune of the Iranian people to the misdoing of the regime.

In the past year alone, Iran’s apologists have blamed the massive anti-regime protests, the regime’s missile attack on a Ukrainian passenger plane, and the Coronavirus outbreak on US policy. In reality, all three crises were direct consequences of the Islamic Republic’s gross incompetence.

While some American policymakers may fall for the regime’s propaganda, Iranians see past their lies. The Iranian people are united behind a clear message: in order to achieve democratic progress in the country, the regime in Tehran must be toppled. Their unity is reflected in the nationwide protests that have quickly escalated to chants of “death to the dictator.” Iranians know that NIAC and other pro-regime lobbies only aim to maintain the status quo, not to achieve fundamental, lasting change in Iran.

The arguments they make for sanctions relief are baseless. American sanctions are carefully targeted on entities responsible for human rights abuses and terrorism. The sanctions have very clear provisions that accommodate humanitarian and medical transactions. This is corroborated by both Democratic and Republican leaders.

Furthermore, there are over $300 billion in financial holdings and oil escrow accounts around the world that belong to the Iranian regime which it could use for COVID-19 relief. The United States has also set up the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Agreement for the sole purpose of Iranian humanitarian transactions. In fact, pharmaceutical exports from the EU to Iran increased during the period when sanctions were intensified. The Trump administration has even made multiple offers to give COVID aid to Iran, yet the regime has rejected all such offers and has refused to use alternative humanitarian channels.

Instead of funding the country’s healthcare system, the Islamic Republic allocates the bulk of its resources to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its proxies. When the outbreak started, the regime banned Doctors Without Borders from the country, denied the virus’ severity, and refused to enforce quarantines.

While other countries halted international travel to limit virus spread, Iran continued to operate flights to and from China. In February alone, Iran had 55 passenger trips to several Chinese cities that were COVID-19 hotspots. All these flights were operated by Mahan Airlines, an Iranian state-controlled airline, and continued even while Iran’s outbreak worsened.

The regime’s corrupt mismanagement of COVID-19 doesn’t end there. The Islamic Republic hoarded medical supplies to sell on black markets and gave away three million masks to China because it prioritized profits over its people’s health. Clearly, the issue of resource shortages facing Iranians is not a byproduct of economic sanctions, but the consequence of the regime’s deliberate decisions.

If history tells us anything, its that sanctions relief will not help the Iranian people. Rather, providing cash to the Iranian regime will only strengthen the Ayatollah’s grip on the country and its innocent people. No amount of sanctions relief will alter the intrinsic nature of a regime that prioritizes lining the pockets of its loyalists and proxies over the well-being of its people.

The lobbyists and American representatives who shed crocodile tears over sanctions are disingenuous in their care for the Iranian people. Their regurgitation of the regime’s talking points is a lazy form of solidarity with the Iranian people. It creates the facade of caring for the people’s interests, but in reality, it only extends a lifeline to the regime. The Islamic Republic knows it can only survive if domestic unrest is deflected to an external enemy.

My advice to Americans who wish to be the Iranian people’s allies: don’t fall for the sanctions charade. Don’t grant the Islamic Republic the propaganda victory they desperately need.

About the author: Seena Saiedian is from Overland Park, KS and is a student at UC Berkeley. He is a member of the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, a human rights activist, and speaker.

Follow him on Twitter: @seena_ir.

Read his last article here



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