Progressives are calling for U.S. sanctions on Iran to be lifted amid COVID-19 crisis, but Biden says he doesn’t have enough information yet

Earlier this month, nine members of Congress called on the Trump administration to lift its sanctions on Iran in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Asked if he would support such a policy on Sunday, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden would not endorse that call and said he needed more information to make a decision.

The letter (which was sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin) was signed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Representative Jared Huffman (D-CA), Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA). It points out that the U.S. sanction policy is impeding Iran’s ability to fight the virus. “Rather than continue to pile on sanctions in the Iranian people’s hour of need, we urge you to substantially suspend sanctions on Iran in a humanitarian gesture to the Iranian people to better enable them to fight the virus,” reads the letter, “Sanctions relief should encompass major sectors of the Iranian economy, including those impacting civilian industries, Iran’s banking sector and exports of oil, and should last for at least as long as health experts believe the crisis will continueFailure to do so risks inhibiting the delivery of key humanitarian goods, and putting the Iranian people into further health and economic peril.”

“Would you lift sanctions on Iran temporarily, during this pandemic?” NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Biden on Meet the Press. “I don’t have enough information about the situation in Iran right now,” replied Biden, “There’s a lot of speculation from my foreign policy team that they’re in real trouble and they’re lying. But I would need more information to make that judgement. I don’t have the national security information available.”

It’s not clear whether Biden was suggesting that Iran’s government, or the Trump administration, is potentially lying.

A letter was also sent to Pompeo and Mnuchin by over 25 organizations, including NIAC Action, J Street, Truman National Security Project, MoveOn recently. It echoes the congressional call to suspend the sanctions. “To help stem the continued spread of the virus inside Iran and beyond, we urge you to issue a time-bound suspension of those U.S. sanctions that make it harder for ordinary Iranians to secure basic goods and services to weather the crisis,” it reads, “Doing so would not just serve U.S. interests in helping contain the further spread of the virus, but would also be a powerful humanitarian gesture to the more than 80 million Iranians suffering under the pandemic.”

The Trump administration has not only ignored calls to lift the sanctions, they’ve slapped new ones on the country this month. On March 17, Pompeo announced a new set of restrictions on Iran that allegedly target the country’s petrochemical industry. “Our sanctions will deprive the regime of critical income from its petrochemical industry and further Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation,” declared Pompeo, “The United States will continue to fully enforce our sanctions.”

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