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US Democratic Senators Call For Iran Sanctions Suspension Amid Coronavirus

Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., FILE PHOTO
Senator Chris Murphy, D-Conn., FILE PHOTO

In a letter to the U.S. Secretary of state, eleven Democratic Senators have called for easing sanctions Washington has imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran and Venezuela, amid a global pandemic.

Senator Murphy representing Connecticut since 2013, on Thursday sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin asking to "ease economic sanctions against countries where sanctions are hindering the humanitarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic – specifically Iran and Venezuela.”

Senator Murphy's letter is co-signed by ten other Senators, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawai'i), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

"It hurts our nation's security and our moral standing in the world when our sanctions policy results in innocent people dying. I am particularly concerned about the impact of sanctions on the COVID-19 response in Iran and Venezuela," said Murphy in his letter.

Admitting dominant mismanagement and corruption in Iran and Venezuela, Murphy and his colleagues have asserted, "While the shortcomings of these national governments are largely due to their endemic corruption, mismanagement, and authoritarian behavior, broad-based U.S. sanctions have exacerbated the failing medical response. Helping these nations saves lives during this crisis is the right thing to do from a moral perspective, but it is also the right thing to do from a national security perspective."

Referring to the previous cases of U.S. aid to Iran, the senators have affirmed in the letter that when a massive earthquake struck Iran in 2003 killing 26,000 people, President George W. Bush administration temporarily suspended sanctions to send 150,000 pounds of medical supplies and more than 200 aid workers on military aircraft to help the people of Iran recover.

While admitting that the Iranian and Venezuelan regimes are American adversaries, the Senators have insisted, "The good people of these nations are not our enemy. By allowing our sanctions to contribute to the exceptional pain and suffering brought about by the coronavirus outbreaks in both nations, we play into the anti-Americanism that is at the heart of both regimes' hold on power."

However, President Donald Trump's administration has repeatedly noted that U.S. sanctions do not ban export of humanitarian goods and food to Iran.

Moreover, Washington recently offered aid to the coronavirus-hit Iran, but the Islamic Republic leaders immediately rejected it.

President Trump's administration has not yet reacted to the Senators' letter.

The initiator of the letter to the State Department and Department of Treasury, Senator Murphy, made the news last February when it was revealed he had secretly met with the Islamic Republic Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference (February 16-18.)

Murphy and Zarif spoke publicly during a two-hour session on Middle East policy, with both fiercely criticizing U.S. policy, reports said at the time.

In a tweet on February 18, Murphy admitted that he met with Zarif, arguing that "it's dangerous not to talk to adversaries."

"Many of us have met with Zarif over the years, under Obama and Trump," Murphy tweeted, adding, "So though no one in Congress can negotiate with Zarif or carry official U.S. government messages, there is value in having a dialogue."

According to his tweets, Murphy also urged Zarif to rein in Islamic Republic's proxies that might attack U.S. forces in the region, as well as release American citizens unlawfully detained in the clergy-dominated Iran.