WSJ: No Time to End Iran Sanctions
Iranian proxy forces in Iraq continue to lob rockets into U.S. bases with deadly results. But amid the coronavirus, Iranian leaders want the U.S. to ease sanctions on the country in the name of compassion. President Trump should resist the plea. “The US government has failed to abandon its malicious policy of maximum pressure,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wrote in a March 20 letter to the American public. “The sanctions have drastically undermined the ability of the Iranian people to fight the coronavirus and some among them are losing their lives as a result.” Iran is one of the world’s virus hot spots, with 27,017 confirmed cases and more than 2,000 deaths. A World Health Organization official last week estimated that the death toll could be five times higher than official reports suggest. No one doubts everyday Iranians—along with Western hostages held by the government—are suffering immensely from the pandemic.
If American sanctions were the culprit, it might be reasonable to consider lifting them. But the regime’s incompetence and self-interest are to blame. Sanctions didn’t force the government to play down the virus threat to boost turnout for parliamentary elections in February. Sanctions didn’t let Mahan Air keep at least 55 flights from China to Iran between Feb. 4 and 23. Sanctions didn’t require the country’s leaders to keep Friday prayers going far longer than was safe. Nor did sanctions stop the regime from imposing broader regional or national lockdowns. American restrictions on Iranian economic activity include an exception for food and medicine imports. It’s true that in the past banks were still hesitant to allow such transactions, but the U.S. and Switzerland created a clearer channel for financiers to provide the country with help last month. The Iranians haven’t used it in any meaningful way, and they also rejected help from Doctors Without Borders. Iranian officials told the organization that help from “foreign forces” wasn’t required. Even if more cash flowed to the government, corruption remains a problem. Last year Mr. Rouhani’s chief of staff admitted that more than $1 billion earmarked for importing medicine had simply disappeared. Around the same time a $170 million subsidy for medical supplies was used to import tobacco. New sanctions announced last week targeting the country’s petrochemical industry won’t affect relief efforts, but it will hurt regime cronies as they lose another revenue source.
The sanctions campaign has starved the government of hundreds of billions of dollars. Easing sanctions would provide more funds for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, not the public. Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal gave the country a cash windfall, but the public missed out on most of the benefits. The Islamic Republic has instead spent $16 billion subsidizing terrorism around the world since 2012, according to the State Department. Easing sanctions would shore up the regime’s shaky position without providing relief to the Iranian people. Tehran has money for medicine if it cuts spending on missiles, nuclear-weapons development and military adventurism. Diverting billions from the mullahs’ violent imperial project is the best way to relieve suffering in Iran and the broader Middle East.