Swiss humanitarian channel not enough to meet Iran’s needs: UN envoy

Press TV – Iran’s permanent Ambassador to the United Nations says the trade channel launched by a Swiss bank to help the Islamic Republic use its overseas funds to procure food and medicine for its people amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic has so far failed to meet the country’s needs.

Majid Takht Ravanchi made the remarks on Saturday evening while addressing the International Webinar on ‘Sanctioned Countries Speak: US Sanctions and COVID-19, A Global Threat.’

The Iranian diplomat commented on four decades of Washington’s “inhumane” sanctions against the Islamic Republic and their “vast socioeconomic consequences” on Iran’s fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“On 27 February 2020, the US Treasury finalized with much fanfare ‘The Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement’ (SHTA) allowing certain humanitarian transactions with Iran. However, this narrow channel does not match Iran’s humanitarian needs in the current situation,” he said.

At the same time, he added, the United States has forced SHTA to pursue a “very tight and tough procedure” which made it practically very difficult for companies to trade with Iran.

“Additionally, the almost impossible or cumbersome nature of transferring Iran’s reserves blocked outside the country to the designated Swiss bank, not only does not allow the SHTA to function properly now, but may actually render it redundant in a matter of few months,” the Iranian diplomat said.

“Likewise, recently several companies that supply the medicine and medical equipment required to fight the coronavirus have stopped shipping to Iran, because the current US sanctions regime makes the shipping of such items to Iran almost impossible.”

Takht Ravanchi rejected the US officials’ claim that humanitarian and medical needs are exempt from sanctions, saying, “This is despite the fact that Iran’s medical facilities, doctors, and nurses are among the very finest in the world, and the professional nature of our national efforts to suppress COVID-19 is highly acknowledged by the WHO (World Health Organization).”

He noted that Washington’s additional new sanctions, imposed in the midst of the disease outbreak, conveyed the only message that “companies must avoid doing any business with Iran, even if their work is humanitarian in nature.”

Iran’s diplomat said the US sanctions, including its relevant penalties, have created a compliance minefield for the legal trade with Iran as “medical suppliers and relief organizations simply steer clear of doing business in Iran in the fear of accidentally getting caught up in the US sanctions’ web.”

“While Iran is experiencing one of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus, the US sanctions – which, according to its officials are the most extensive sanctions ever imposed on a country – are drastically hindering Iran’s efforts to treat patients and effectively prevent the spread of the virus.”

Takht Ravanchi then pointed to the valuable emergency aid dispatched to Iran by some countries, the WHO and certain humanitarian organizations since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak and emphasized that such emergency aid is not the panacea for a vast country like Iran which is among the worst impacted countries by the disease.

“Hence, the immediate removal of all sanctions on banking, insurance, transportation, medical, industry, energy, exports, imports and alike is a must as it would enable the targeted countries to use, freely and fully, their own resources to effectively suppress the pandemic and address its short and long terms impacts,” Takht Ravanchi said.

The United States re-imposed its sanctions on Iran in May 2018 after unilaterally leaving a historic nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic and five other major powers that has been endorsed by the UN Security Council.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has not only defied international calls in recent weeks to halt the draconian sanctions, but has even slapped more restrictive measures on the Islamic Republic.

In late January, the United States and Switzerland announced the launch of SHTA meant to find a way around the US sanctions to use Iranian funds deposited abroad to buy food and medicine for the country via the Swiss bank BCP.

Iran has already dismissed as “insufficient” the Swiss-US channel, arguing that the United States is originally banned by the International Court of Justice from subjecting Iran’s much-needed medical supplies to sanctions.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi in March questioned the US claim that medicines are not subject to sanctions, saying Washington does not allow financial transactions through a Swiss humanitarian channel amid Tehran’s battle against the spreading coronavirus in the country.

“Although the Americans claim that medicines are not subject to sanctions, they have in reality closed the door [to Iran] and have not allowed our sources in other countries to get into the Swiss channel,” Mousavi said.

Iran’s coronavirus deaths show further decline: Official

Earlier on Sunday, an Iranian Health Ministry official said the coronavirus pandemic has claimed the lives of 51 people during the past 24 hours, increasing the total death toll to 6,640.

Kianoush Jahanpour, who heads the public relations and information center at the Iranian Ministry of Health, added that 1,383 new cases have also been confirmed in the country over the past day, raising the overall tally to 107,603 people.

“Fortunately, 86,143 patients have recovered and been discharged from hospitals so far, while 2,675 patients infected with COVID-19 are still in critical conditions,” the official said.

He noted that 586,699 COVID-19 diagnosis tests have been carried out in the country until now.