House & Senate Members Call On President Trump To End Sanctions Against Iran During Covid-19

March 31, 2020

Washington, D.C. – Today, 34 members of the House and Senate sent a letter to President Trump asking his administration to end sanctions against Iran, as the nation copes with COVID-19. The letter was also endorsed by 13 signatory groups. In a particularly troubling development, the Trump administration levied additional sanctions against Iran on March 18. The full letter can be found here. 

“Rather than continue to invoke new sanctions in the Iranian people’s hour of need, we urge you to substantially suspend sanctions on Iran during this global public health emergency in a humanitarian gesture to the Iranian people to better enable them to fight the virus,” the letter reads. “Additionally, we encourage the U.S. to find a way to deliver aid directly to the Iranian people to support the Iranian people’s fight against Coronavirus, as many other nations have done. There is precedent for both of these steps, as the George W. Bush administration eased sanctions and delivered aid to Iran following a deadly earthquake near Bam in 2003.”

Signatories on the letter include Congress members Huffman, Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders, Markey, Omar, Castro, Pressley, Lee, Warren, Pocan, Tlaib, Grijalva, McGovern, Beyer, Jayapal, Rush, DeFazio, Khanna, Johnson (GA), Foster, Norton, Connolly, Watson-Coleman, Davis, Garcia (IL), Velazquez, Blumenauer, Haaland, Welch, DeGette, Eshoo, Pingree, Dingell, Jackson Lee. Endorsing organizations include: Just Foreign Policy, J Street, National Iranian American Council, Win Without War, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Ploughshares Fund, Indivisible, Peace Action, Demand Progress, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), Project Blueprint, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), and No War Campaign.

“Coronavirus is ravaging the globe, and nations like Iran are being hit especially hard. Stubbornly imposing harsh sanctions in the face of this deadly pandemic is inhumane.  It will further damage the Iranian healthcare system that is already near collapse, and could contribute to the spread of COVID-19 in ways that jeopardize the safety of Americans and our allies in the region,” said Congressman Jared Huffman (CA-02). “Past Administrations of both parties have eased sanctions in response to natural disasters in Iran. We should not let our disputes with the Iranian government prevent us from treating the people of Iran with compassion, decency and common sense during this deadly pandemic.” 

“The United States can begin to restore our moral leadership by removing any obstacles that prevent life-saving humanitarian assistance from reaching frontline health care professionals in Iran and other countries battling the novel coronavirus,” said J Street’s Executive Vice President Dylan Williams. “No matter how serious our disputes with Iran's ruling regime, we must ensure that the United States is not standing in the way of vital supplies and relief reaching the Iranian people at a time when we face a shared public health crisis."

“U.S. sanctions have become an existential threat to the 3.5 million Iranians who may die if coronavirus isn’t contained. It is time to pause the ideological battles between the American and Iranian governments and unite to stop the spread of this threat for the sake of all humanity,” said National Iranian American Council Action Executive Director Jamal Abdi.  "As Iranian Americans, we have loved ones suffering in both countries and are grateful to our lawmakers who are working to ensure the U.S. government is part of the solution and not the problem."

“Even as we relentlessly address the COVID-19 crisis at home, we can’t forget this is a global pandemic that requires American leadership,” said Congressman and Vice Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Joaquin Castro (TX-20). “That’s why I’m calling on the Trump Administration to enact temporary sanctions relief for the Iranian people and provide humanitarian assistance, as previous administrations have done during catastrophes.” 

“It is cruel to enforce sanctions that devastate economies and hurt healthcare systems, especially during a global pandemic,"said Erik Sperling, Executive Director of Just Foreign Policy. "It's morally wrong and counterproductive to pursue regime change by knowingly increasing death and suffering of innocent people. We are so grateful to Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and these Congress Members for joining the global call for sanctions relief during this crisis."

“Iran is facing a catastrophic toll from the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. sanctions should not be contributing to this humanitarian disaster,” said Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). “As a caring nation, we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions. Every country on earth is going to be affected by the coronavirus. We are all in this together. We must work together. If there was ever a moment to show each other unprecedented cooperation and support, this is that moment.”

“The United States can begin to restore our moral leadership by removing any obstacles that prevent life-saving humanitarian assistance from reaching frontline health care professionals in Iran and other countries battling the novel coronavirus,” said Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). “I am pleased to join Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Sanders to demand the Trump administration make practical changes to its sanctions on Iran and other countries to give them a fighting chance against our shared invisible enemy: coronavirus.”

"U.S. sanctions policy is badly broken, and this global pandemic shows the cruelty of these policies. If the administration were strategic, it would see that suspending sanctions on Iran would not only provide Iran much-needed humanitarian relief and help staunch the spread of COVID-19, but also would create an opening for U.S.-Iran diplomacy and a de-escalation of military tensions,” said Erica Fein, Advocacy Director at Win Without War. “If Trump, Pompeo, and Mnuchin continue to resist sanctions relief, it will be further evidence that their sanctions policy is not a means to an end, but a cruel end unto itself."

“Keeping in place sanctions on Iran during the current public health crisis is not only cruel, it’s criminal,” said Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (MN-05). “These sanctions are not changing the behavior of the government of Iran, they are punishing innocent civilians who are suffering during this pandemic. A recent Human Rights Watch report found that our sanctions are making it harder for the country to import medicine and other humanitarian supplies—not to mention the devastating economic impact they have on everyday Iranians. The paralyzing network of US sanctions has led banks and companies to pull back from humanitarian trade, meaning Iranians suffering from coronavirus and other illnesses are unable to get the medicine and treatment they need. They are also making it harder for ordinary Iranian citizens to pay their bills—at a time of global economic crisis.  Rather than putting in place even harsher sanctions, we need to lift these sanctions now. Lives are at stake.”

“The Trump Administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions campaign is blocking vital medicines and medical equipment from reaching the Iranian people during a global pandemic,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-13). “Despite promises to stand by the Iranian people and despite ‘exemptions,’ they are preventing humanitarian supplies from reaching those who need them the most. These sanctions must be removed to ensure humanitarian assistance is not blocked from reaching the Iranian people.”