Pompeo hints US could ease sanctions on Iran due to coronavirus
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Pompeo hints US could ease sanctions on Iran due to coronavirus

As death toll rises in Tehran, Rouhani says Washington is missing a ‘historic opportunity’ to ease penalties on Islamic Republic

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference, March 31, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference, March 31, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

The United States may consider easing sanctions on Iran and other countries due to the coronavirus pandemic, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hinted at a briefing to reporters in Washington on Tuesday.

Asked if Washington might reconsider its position amid the pandemic, Pompeo replied: “Well, of course, we evaluate all of our policies constantly. So the answer is would we ever rethink it – of course, we’re constantly trying to make sure we have our policies right. “

The US secretary of state said that none of the countries facing sanctions —  including Iran, North Korea and Venezuela — were currently blocked from receiving medical assistance.

“When it comes to humanitarian assistance, medical devices, equipment, pharmaceuticals, things that people need in these difficult times, those are not sanctioned anywhere at any time that I’m aware of,” he said.

Medicines and medical equipment are technically exempt from the US sanctions but purchases are frequently blocked by the unwillingness of banks to process purchases for fear of incurring large penalties in the United States.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a cabinet meeting in Tehran, March 18, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)

Countries including Azerbaijan, Britain, China, France, Germany, Japan, Qatar, Russia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have all sent shipments of medical aid to Iran.

European nations have also delivered medical goods to Iran in the first transaction under the Instex financing mechanism set up to get round US sanctions, Germany said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, as Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus passed 3,000, according to a health ministry statement on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused Washington of missing a “historic opportunity” to lift sanctions.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have soared since US President Donald Trump abandoned a landmark nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions aimed at countering its missile program and military aggression across the Middle East.

Tehran has repeatedly called on Washington to reverse its policy, which has been opposed by US allies, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“This was the best, historic opportunity for the Americans to reverse their wrong path and for once, tell their nation they are not against the Iranian people,” Rouhani said in televised comments at a cabinet meeting.

They “did not learn their lesson even during this difficult global situation,” he said.

“This was a humanitarian issue. No one would have blamed them for retreating.”

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the coronavirus death toll in Iran now stood at 3,036 following 138 new fatalities in the past 24 hours.

He added that 2,987 new cases had been confirmed, bringing the total to 47,593, with 15,473 of those hospitalized having recovered and been discharged.

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