[ Editor’s Note: Color me surprised. I had read that the EU had plans to send some medical equipment to Iran, but we have heard these “it’s just around the corner” statements before.
I am thinking that possibly these were donations, and hence no funds changed hands to avoid triggering the US financial sanctions. We also had heard talk last week of some of Iran’s frozen funds being unfrozen so they could be used for payment, but without a transfer being made.
Either way the US seems to have rolled with it for now, making the statement that it wanted to be sure that the “aid” was not “hijacked”, whatever the heck that means. The US has always said that humanitarian aid could always be imported, but didn’t mention that the issue was not sending it to Iran, but of Iran having a mechanism to pay for it.
– First published … April 01, 2020 –
Europe launched its first shipment to Iran today using a mechanism that was originally intended to function as a workaround to US sanctions in a Hail Mary bid to salvage the unraveling Iran nuclear deal. The shipment includes consists of medical goods for Iran to help it cope with the coronavirus outbreak that is ravaging the country.
The mechanism — dubbed INSTEX — was originally conceived as a means to offset the economic burden on Iran resulting from US sanctions. But so far, the United States appears completely unbothered.
“The US has no issues with humanitarian trade so long as it is conducted with strong due diligence measures to prevent the Iranian regime from hijacking the aid for itself,” a State Department spokesperson told Al-Monitor.
Why it matters: Iran initially had high expectations for INSTEX, hoping that it would allow for business with European firms as Tehran hemorrhaged billions of dollars in oil revenue following President Donald Trump’s reimposition of sanctions. After more than a year of delay, it became increasingly clear that INSTEX would only be used to facilitate humanitarian trade with Iran.
While Iran has accused US sanctions of inhibiting its response to the coronavirus pandemic, the United States did revise its sanctions guidelines last month to allow for medical and agricultural trade via Iran’s Central Bank. This means INSTEX might never actually violate US sanctions — so long as it engages only in humanitarian transactions.
What’s next: A group of 34 Democratic lawmakers, including presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin today urging them to relieve sanctions on Iran as it struggles to cope with the pandemic. Thirteen anti-war groups also backed the letter.
Note: from an additional Al-Monitor story:
In the first transaction of its kind, France, Germany and Britain have sent medical goods to Iran under a trade mechanism set up to bypass US sanctions against Tehran.
In January 2019, the three European countries, known as the E3, developed the trade mechanism — dubbed INSTEX — as a workaround to export goods to Iran.
“INSTEX and its Iranian counterpart STFI will work on more transactions and enhancing the mechanism,” the German Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “These goods are now in Iran.”
The German Foreign Ministry did not specify what was included in the shipment, only confirming its arrival. Citing people familiar with the transaction, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that “the sale was equipment related to blood treatment from a German exporter.”
The Islamic Republic, meanwhile, is grappling with the Middle East’s worst coronavirus outbreak. The death toll climbed to 2,898 on Tuesday, with more than 44,000 confirmed cases, Iran’s Health Ministry said.
The White House has resisted calls from some world leaders and human rights organizations to ease its “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions against Iran, which Tehran says is hampering its ability to contain the virus. Officials in Iran have increasingly taken to social media to condemn the United States for what it calls “economic terrorism.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed in a Tuesday news conference that the United States has offered humanitarian assistance to Iran in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Medicine and medical supplies are exempted from US sanctions.
“When they make the claim that they just don’t have the money to feed their people, these are decisions that these people’s leaders have often made,” Pompeo said of Iran and other sanctioned countries. “It is indeed quite sad.”
Last week, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country would not accept American assistance, calling US officials “charlatans and liars.”
“Several times Americans have offered to help us to fight the pandemic. That is strange because you face shortages in America,” Khamenei said in a televised speech.