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March 27, 2020

Business as usual

Opinion

March 27, 2020

Never discount the importance of venality in international relations. While pandemics should provide the glue for a unified front in response – we keep being told of fighting this horrendous “invisible enemy” – it’s business as usual in other respects.

The United States, with a disparate, confused medical system that risks being overwhelmed, remains committed against that other country floundering in efforts to combat COVID-19: Iran. Instead of binding the nations, the virus, as with everything else, has served as a political obstacle.

This has led to a few glaring oddities. The first lies on the policy approach to US-led sanctions, which continues with usual viciousness. Last week, the US State Department added nine new entities and three individuals to the sanctions list against Iran. According to the press statement, “The actions of these individuals and entities provide revenue to the regime that it may use to fund terror and other destabilizing activities, such as the recent rocket attacks on Iraqi and Coalition forces located at Camp Taji in Iraq.” The aim here was to “deprive the regime of critical income from its petrochemical industry and further Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation.”

The Trump administration has insisted on pursuing the Iranian bogeyman with an enthusiasm verging on mania. Its attempts to scuttle Tehran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with six world powers has, to a certain extent, been successful. This has merely added gusto to Tehran’s defiance. The US has also sought to impress the Iranian armed forces that their influence in the Middle East remains on notice: the killing of Major General Qassem Soleimani of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Coprs was sharp, bloody and bankrupt in terms of strategy.

The coronavirus outbreak may well be seen as offering other opportunities to bring Iran to its knees. The desiccated tacticians are out with their spread sheets and tables wondering what will be most effective approach. The sanctions, as they tend to, have targeted the vulnerable, though never touch the well-heeled. The health system has suffered; shortages in equipment and medicines are savagely biting. A team of researchers at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran have concluded, using simulations, that 3.5 million deaths might eventuate in Iran if the crisis persists at its current momentum till May. A truly horrendous toll that, should it eventuate, would not necessarily give Washington what it wants: submission and regime change.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has insisted on conditions to any state wishing to offer humanitarian assistance to Iran. The “release of all dual and foreign nationals” is a primary condition. A cumbersome, red-tape Swiss channel has also been established to facilitate trade with Iran, but US oversight makes the option ungainly.

Amidst the tangle have come small offers of assistance from Washington; first the brutal slap, then the promise of miniscule relief. Scepticism was forthcoming. What was the Great Satan playing at? “Several times Americans have offered to help us to fight the pandemic,” assessed a sceptical Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a televised address over the weekend. “That is strange because you face shortages in America.”

Excerpted from: 'Business as Usual: Coronavirus, Iran and US Sanctions'.

Counterpunch.org