An influential US lobbying group tied to Republican hawks is attempting convince the Trump administration to block all medicine sales to Iran after the US Treasury recently opened up humanitarian channels due to Iran's devastating coronavirus outbreak.
Despite the daily soaring infection rate and death toll, with Iran on Friday confirming 124 deaths amid 4747 confirmed cases — though true numbers are believed much higher — the hawkish pressure group, United Against Nuclear Iran, wants to ensure all medical trade dries up.
Last month the US administration came under fire based on the allegation that aggressive and tightening US-led sanctions of the past two years have actually exacerbated the new Covid-19 crisis in Iran, not only setting the conditions for rapid spread but weakening the medical response for lack of equipment, medicines, and ability to test.
However, the White House responded to the criticism by easing sanctions and ensuring humanitarian channels were opened up, specifically to fight the coronavirus, which threatened to spread further through the Middle East.
"The Trump administration is partially reversing course on economic sanctions that have slowed down Iran from importing coronavirus test kits as the country faces down the most deadly COVID-19 outbreak outside of East Asia," according to a report in The National Interest last month. This included expanding special financial channels for humanitarian goods and medicine to the Islamic Republic.
An investigative report in The Intercept describes United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) and its mounting a well-funded "name and shame" operation targeting medical industry companies still doing business with Iran:
UANI says it aims to persuade “the regime in Tehran to desist from its quest for nuclear weapons, while striving not to punish the Iranian people.” (The U.S. intelligence community does not believe that Iran has any desire or plans to build nuclear weapons.) UANI’s efforts, however, have extended beyond sanctions into pressuring companies that do legal trade with Iran, often under the Treasury Department’s humanitarian exemptions to sanctions — including medical-related trades that would presumably aid in combating a massive public health crisis like this coronavirus outbreak.
The pressure group has ties to John Bolton, the Israeli lobby, as well as Republican Party mega-donors and (surprise, surprise) Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
UANI claims its actions continue to be motivated by ensuring Iran cannot pursue over ever acquire a nuclear weapon.
You can't make this up.— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) March 5, 2020
Despite the #coronavirus crisis (and human decency), there’s a hawkish anti-#Iran group naming and shaming pharmaceutical companies legally selling medicine to #Iran. @EliClifton reports for @RStatecraft and the @theintercept https://t.co/pvy5elUeel
The group is specifically going after companies with humanitarian exemption waivers to conduct limited business with Iran, focused on essential pharmaceutical supplies. The report continues:
UANI operates an “Iran Business Registry” that provides an online database of companies it believes are conducting business in or with Iran — a name-and-shame strategy to increase Iran’s economic isolation. The pressure campaign has targeted multiple medical companies with Treasury Department licenses to conduct trade with Iran. Nine pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical-device corporations, all with special licenses, are listed on UANI’s business registry. Companies urged by UANI to “end their Iran business” include Bayer, Merck, Pfizer, Genzyme, AirSep, Medrad, Becton, Dickinson & Company, Eli Lilly, and Abbott Laboratories.
To the surprise of many, the administration last week momentarily put aside the fact that it's essentially at war with Iran and actually offered to "help" Iran combat the rapidly spreading and deadly coronavirus according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's prior testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Feb. 28.
But Iran’s foreign ministry slammed America's offer as “ridiculous” and derided it as propaganda after Washington had already “closed the paths for buying medicine and medical equipment,” according to official statements. As Covid-19 infections continue going global, the blame game is likely only to continue ratcheting up.
Iranian leaders have blamed Washington for the worsening crisis, given the limited ability to import virus testing kits and equipment and medicines. But the State Department under Pompeo has tended to blame countries that have become central to the virus' spread for deepening the crisis through a severe lack of transparency.