Iran accuses US of ‘economic terrorism,’ urges end to sanctions

Iran accuses US of ‘economic terrorism,’ urges end to sanctions

‘Unconscionable’ US restrictions hampering Tehran’s ability to combat deadly coronavirus outbreak, Zarif charges in letter to UN secretary-general

People wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus on a street in downtown Tehran, Iran, February 23, 2020. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)
People wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus on a street in downtown Tehran, Iran, February 23, 2020. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

UNITED NATIONS — Iran’s foreign minister demanded Thursday that the United States immediately halt what he called a “campaign of economic terrorism” and lift sanctions, saying they have made it increasingly difficult for the country to export oil and virtually impossible to import medicine and medical equipment, including to identify and treat coronavirus patients.

Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that US sanctions have also left thousands of Iranians stranded abroad and severely disrupted air links with Europe. And he said they have led to what he called “Google’s immoral censoring” of a new government app designed to help Iranians identify potential symptoms of the COVID-19 virus.

He said it is “imperative” that the government of the United States immediately halt its campaign of economic terrorism against the Iranian people and lift all sanctions it has illegally imposed on my country,” in violation of the Security Council resolution that endorsed the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers which the US pulled out of in 2018.

“To this end,” Zarif said, “It is imperative that the United Nations and its member states join the Iranian people in demanding that the government of the United States abandon its malign and fruitless approach against Iran.”

The new coronavirus, COVID-19, has swept across Iran, with the Health Ministry announcing Thursday that in the past 24 hours, 75 people had died and more than 1,000 new cases had been confirmed, bringing the official death toll to 429 and confirmed cases to 10,075, with foreign observers suggesting the number could be far higher.

In this Aug. 29, 2019 file photo, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a forum titled “Common Security in the Islamic World” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (AP Photo/Vincent Thian, File)

The US reimposed sanctions on Iran beginning in 2018 over its ballistic missile program, its support for militias and proxies throughout the Middle East, and what US officials have said are insufficient safeguards in the 2015 deal on its nuclear program.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said  Guterres is “deeply concerned” about the coronavirus outbreak in Iran and the UN system is providing support.

But the UN chief is also very aware “of the shortage of medicine and medical equipment that makes it much more difficult to contain the outbreak in Iran, and he appeals to all member states to facilitate and support Iran’s efforts in this critical moment,” Dujarric said.

Zarif said it is “unconscionable” that the US government has not only increased its “maximum pressure” campaign “just as the virus has spread and is killing our most vulnerable citizens, but that it additionally has the audacity to lecture us on containing the coronavirus as it itself is evidently incapable of containing its onslaught.”

He sharply criticized the US “bullying others to refrain from engaging in legitimate trade with Iran” and said “even if foreign suppliers are found and required items can be purchased with our assets abroad, myriad US shipping, insurance, financial and banking sanctions make such trade nonviable,” which he claimed was a violation of the 2015 Security Council resolution and international humanitarian law, “amounting to a crime against humanity.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks during an update on the COVID-19 coronavirus situation at the World Health Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, February 24, 2020. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Zarif said “inaction” by some countries led to a reduction in the value and quantity of imports from Europe of all pharmaceutical goods, from medical disinfectants to breathing appliances. And he said imports are now at a lower level than before the 2016 implementation of the Iran nuclear deal.

“While other nations debate how to control the spread of the virus — and while their economies suffer and fear takes hold among their populations — our people not only suffer from its effects without the full benefits of adequate medical equipment and supplies, but also the many other ways in which US economic terrorism had devastated many households prior to the inception of COVID-19, and only made worse since its arrival in Iran,” Zarif said.

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