Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar Lead Lawmakers in Calling for Lifting U.S. Sanctions as Iran Reels from Coronavirus

WASHINGTON, March 31 — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) led nearly three dozen lawmakers in urging the Trump Administration to ease sanctions against Iran, as the country suffers from a major humanitarian crisis triggered by COVID-19. The letter comes just two weeks after the Trump Administration levied additional sanctions against Iran in the midst of the pandemic, which has to date killed more than 2,600 Iranians.

“Rather than continue to invoke new sanctions in the Iranian people’s hour of need, we urge you to substantially suspend sanctions on Iran during this global public health emergency in a humanitarian gesture to the Iranian people to better enable them to fight the virus,” the letter reads. “Additionally, we encourage the U.S. to find a way to deliver aid directly to the Iranian people to support the Iranian people’s fight against Coronavirus, as many other nations have done. There is precedent for both of these steps, as the George W. Bush administration eased sanctions and delivered aid to Iran following a deadly earthquake near Bam in 2003,” the members of Congress conclude.

“Iran is facing a catastrophic toll from the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. sanctions should not be contributing to this humanitarian disaster,” said Sanders. “As a caring nation, we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions. Every country on earth is going to be affected by the coronavirus. We are all in this together. If there was ever a moment to show each other unprecedented cooperation and support internationally, this is that moment.”

“The United States can begin to restore our moral leadership by removing any obstacles that prevent life-saving humanitarian assistance from reaching frontline health care professionals in Iran and other countries battling the novel coronavirus,” said Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). “I am pleased to join Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Sanders to demand the Trump administration make practical changes to its sanctions on Iran and other countries to give them a fighting chance against our shared invisible enemy: coronavirus.”

“Keeping in place sanctions on Iran during the current public health crisis is not only cruel, it’s criminal,” said Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). “These sanctions are not changing the behavior of the government of Iran, they are punishing innocent civilians who are suffering during this pandemic. A recent Human Rights Watch report found that our sanctions are making it harder for the country to import medicine and other humanitarian supplies—not to mention the devastating economic impact they have on everyday Iranians. The paralyzing network of US sanctions has led banks and companies to pull back from humanitarian trade, meaning Iranians suffering from coronavirus and other illnesses are unable to get the medicine and treatment they need. They are also making it harder for ordinary Iranian citizens to pay their bills—at a time of global economic crisis. Rather than putting in place even harsher sanctions, we need to lift these sanctions now. Lives are at stake.”

“Even as we relentlessly address the COVID-19 crisis at home, we can’t forget this is a global pandemic that requires American leadership,” said Congressman and Vice Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Joaquin Castro (D-Texas). “That’s why I’m calling on the Trump Administration to enact temporary sanctions relief for the Iranian people and provide humanitarian assistance, as previous administrations have done during catastrophes.”

“Coronavirus is ravaging the globe, and nations like Iran are being hit especially hard. Stubbornly imposing harsh sanctions in the face of this deadly pandemic is inhumane. It will further damage the Iranian healthcare system that is already near collapse, and could contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in ways that jeopardize the safety of Americans and our allies in the region,” said Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif). “Past Administrations of both parties have eased sanctions in response to natural disasters in Iran. We should not let our disputes with the Iranian government prevent us from treating the people of Iran with compassion, decency and common sense during this deadly pandemic.”

“The Trump Administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions campaign is blocking vital medicines and medical equipment from reaching the Iranian people during a global pandemic,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif). “Despite promises to stand by the Iranian people and despite ‘exemptions,’ they are preventing humanitarian supplies from reaching those who need them the most. These sanctions must be removed to ensure humanitarian assistance is not blocked from reaching the Iranian people.”

Additional signatories include Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Pressley (D-Mass.), Pocan (D-Wis.), Tlaib (D-Mich.), Grijalva (D-Ariz.), McGovern (D-Mass.), Beyer (D-Va.), Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rush (D-Ill.), DeFazio (D-Ore.), Khanna (D-Calif.), Johnson (D-Ga.), Foster (D-Ill.), Norton (D-DC), Connolly (D-Va.), Watson-Coleman (D-N.J.), Davis (D-Ill.), Garcia (D-Ill.), Velazquez (D-N.Y.), Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Haaland (D-N.M.), Welch (D-Vt.), DeGette (D-Colo.), Eshoo (D-Calif.), Pingree (D-Maine), Dingell (D-Mich.), and Jackson Lee (D-Texas).

Endorsing organizations include: Just Foreign Policy, J Street, National Iranian American Council, Win Without War, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Ploughshares Fund, Indivisible, Peace Action, Demand Progress, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), Project Blueprint, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), and No War Campaign.

Read the letter here.