Words versus deeds: Are White House sanctions on Iranians economic terrorism?

MNA | Afshin Majlesi: Tehran accuses Washington of launching economic terrorism against Iranian people; a claim that the US denies.

On the one hand, the Trump administration officials say that food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies are officially exempt from sanctions. On the other, Iran says that Washington’s “economic terrorism” has targeted ordinary people, including patients and children.

It is, however, not very hard to verify counterclaims by going beyond the words and take a peek into the deeds.

Decades-long tensions between the two started to heighten once again last year when Donald Trump walked out of a 2015 landmark agreement, under which the Islamic Republic agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for the termination of economic and financial sanctions.

However, the US reimposed sanctions, targeting oil, banking, and transportation sectors of Iran that had been lifted under the agreement and introduced new ones, arguing the curbs did not go far enough and it wants to compel Iran back to the negotiating table.

In response to the US policy of “maximum pressure”, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said “we acted in good faith” and that Tehran won’t negotiate with Washington unless it shows “respect” for its commitments under the nuclear deal, internationally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

The US measures are seemingly intended to target everything from oil sales to shipping and financial activities but the problem is that they have deterred foreign banks from doing any business with Iran. Fearing the US penalty, banks even refuse to transfer money for the import of food and medicine by Iran.

“Children and ill people cannot get basic medicine,” President Hassan Rouhani said earlier in September when he was attending the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York, where his foreign minister Zarif once again denounced US sanctions as an attempt to deny ordinary Iranians access to food and medicine, and said the move was “a sign of US desperation.”

Back in July, the US Department of State released a video addressed to the people of Iran. In the video, Trump administration official Brian Hook claims that it is a “myth” that sanctions target Iran’s access to medicine.

However, according to the Lancet, (one of the world’s oldest, most prestigious, and best known general medical journals), chemotherapy drugs such as asparaginase, the leukemia treatment mercaptopurine, and even the basic pain killer paracetamol have run out of stock, threatening the treatment of thousands of children, Foreign Policy reported.

The latest news say that over 20 ships carrying around one million tons of grain are stuck outside Iranian ports as US sanctions create payment problems and hamper the country’s efforts to import vital commodities, sources directly involved in the trade said, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

“There are no restrictions on humanitarian business, but you can’t get paid for it,” one European source said. “You can be waiting for months to get a payment.”

Another source said, “There is nervousness among traders about making more sales to Iran before the backlog (of ships) is cleared.”

“Some small banks that we used to work with have informed us that they will no longer do business with us,” a source told Reuters, declining to name the banks.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated last month that Iran’s total cereal stocks in 2019 would total 5.1 million tons, falling to 4.8 million tons in 2020, versus 9.9 million tons in 2016.

Trade sources told Reuters in December that Bunge [an American agribusiness and food company] and rival US group Cargill [CARGIL.UL] as well as other suppliers had halted new food supply deals to Iran due to payment issues.

Based on such evidence, it is not hard to conclude why Iran names US economic sanctions as unconcealed examples of economic terrorism.