Intel: US scales up Iran sanctions amid coronavirus fallout

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The Donald Trump administration stepped up its sanctions on Iran this week as Tehran appeals for sanctions relief to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Treasury Department sanctioned five United Arab Emirates-based companies for purchasing Iranian petroleum. And on Wednesday the United States announced sanctions on nine entities based in South Africa, Hong Kong and China for “significant transactions” in petrochemical trade with Iran as well as three Iranian individuals.

“The Iranian regime uses revenues from petroleum and petrochemical sales to fund its terrorist proxies like the [Quds Force] instead of the health and well-being of the Iranian people,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement. “The Trump administration will continue to target and isolate those who support the Iranian regime and remains committed to facilitating humanitarian trade and assistance in support of the Iranian people.”

Why it matters:  Iran has blamed US sanctions for hindering its ability to cope with the coronavirus. President Hassan Rouhani has said that Iran’s response to the pandemic has “been severely hampered by US sanctions” and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the United Nations last week that the sanctions have curtailed Tehran’s access to medical supplies. The Treasury Department did issue a general license exemption last month allowing for trade in humanitarian goods through Iran’s Central Bank.

Iran has said that coronavirus has killed some 1,100 people and infected more than 17,000, but critics accuse Tehran of downplaying the crisis and note that the number may actually be higher.

What’s next:  Iran has appealed to the International Monetary Fund for a $5 billion loan to fight the coronavirus — a request the United States has yet to weigh in on.

Know more:  Diplomatic correspondent Laura Rozen has the story on what other countries in the region are doing to provide humanitarian aid to Iran. And congressional correspondent Bryant Harris reports on presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ call for Trump to loosen Iran sanctions amid the pandemic.

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Found in: public health, humanitarian supplies, humanitarian crisis, us-iranian conflict, donald trump, iran sanctions, coronavirus

Bryant Harris is Al-Monitor's congressional correspondent. He was previously the White House assistant correspondent for Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan's largest newspaper. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al Jazeera English and IPS News. Prior to his stint in DC, he spent two years as a US Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. On Twitter: @brykharris_ALM, Email: bharris@al-monitor.com.

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