The ongoing Covid-19 has exposed not only public health facilities in many countries, but also revealed complex manifestations of international politics. For the last three weeks amid outbreak of Covid-19 in Iran led to hesitant offers and rejections of assistance that could not enable a conducive environment for cooperation between two arch rivals, the US and Iran.
On March 01, the US President Donald Trump said that the US is willing to provide medical assistance to Iran due to its outbreak of the novel coronavirus if the country asks for it. However, Iran’s supreme leader Khamenei refused American assistance to fight the pandemic and claimed that the US was responsible for the novel Covid-19.
One can analyse that the mistrust, egoistic personalities, hyper-nationalist institutional attitudes often remain dominant features of the bilateral relationship between Iran and the US. This has once again proved at time when nations are seeking international cooperation to fight against the 21st century pandemic.
Every 10 minutes a person in Iran is dying from the Corona Virus including Doctors. Iran is facing a Corona Virus Catastrophe due to U.S sanctions which are preventing the import of much needed medicine and medical equipment.
— StanceGrounded (@_SJPeace_) March 24, 2020
Washington is currently exercising what Trump calls the ‘maximum pressure’ strategy to compel Iranian government to change its behaviour towards the US and its allies in the region. In May 2018, the Trump administration formally withdrew from the international nuclear agreement with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), agreed upon by the Obama administration in July 2015.
Over the next 120 days, until November 5, 2018 the Trump administration not only re-imposed crippling sanctions on Iran, but also created an environment unfavourable to Iranian companies to mitigate any mere possibility of slippage of funds to Iranian military.
On paper, Food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions that Washington re-imposed. However, in practice, the attitude of Washington and its sanctions have largely deterred international banks and firms from participating in commercial or financial transactions with Iran, including for exempted humanitarian transactions, due to the fear of triggering US secondary sanctions on themselves.
As a result, Iranian access to essential medicine is limited and provision of healthcare facilities is not up to the mark. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) had also warned international community in October last year that in case of any emergency, the health of millions of Iranians will remain threatened due to Washington’s sanctions.
The Iranian foreign policy is known for its pragmatism. Throughout post-1979 revolution, Iran proved itself as pragmatic country accepting regional and international realities. However, in the time of Covid-19 pandemic, the foreign policy of Iran seems divided.
The attitude of political leadership of Iran seems far more realistic, logical and rational as compared to its clerics. President of Iran Hassan Rouhani has sought help of Pakistan to lift American sanctions. He has time and again sought help of international community during these hard times.
However, the clergy still seems trapped in idealist abstractions and its universal assumptions derived from theological underpinnings. Clergy’s statements are considered final word in Iran. Perhaps this is why; Iran had also refrained from accepting medical assistance offers of its regional Arab countries including Kuwait and UAE.
To end this mistrust, the US needs to publicly clarify at the highest level that banks or companies face no legal or financial risks in exporting or financing exempted humanitarian goods including food, medicine and medical devices to Iran. Washington should also exempt Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian banks in financing imports of medicines and medical devices to Iran.
— Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) March 24, 2020
Rather lifting sanctions on Iran, the US could moderate its attitude to make a favourble and conducive environment for Iranian medical industry.
The Iranian leadership too needs to understand egos of leadership are built on popular support and any policy that does not cater lives of people will not have popular support. Therefore, egos of ruling elite should not overwhelm well tested pragmatic approach. Currently, Iranian contribution to the region’s Covid-19 cases stand eight out of ten, which means lives of Iranian public are threatened.
Therefore, current situation once again demands pragmatism at the policy-making end of Iran. It is a golden opportunity for Iran to integrate the country into regional and international cooperation and pull back its country from the brink of disaster due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Khurram Minhas is a Ph.D. Scholar and works for Islamabad Policy Research Institute. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.