September 5, 2012

Sanctions punish Iran’s most vulnerable

While the Iranian government refuses to waver on the issue of its nuclear development, U.S. sanctions continue to get broader and more unwieldy.
The sanctions are posing new obstacles to U.S. interests and causing pain inside of Iran.  For instance, there are new reports that even American journalists covering Iran–already dealing with Tehran’s press restrictions–now must also deal with obstacles imposed by the U.S. government in order to get special permission from Treasury to report inside of Iran.
The real pain, however, is being felt by Iran’s most vulnerable citizens.  Iranians with serious medical illnesses are especially affected by the increasing sanctions, according to a new Financial Times report:

The tightening of U.S. banking sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program has had an impact on all sectors of the economy but is increasingly hitting vulnerable medical patients as deliveries of medicine and raw materials for Iranian pharmaceutical companies are either stopped or delayed, according to medical experts.
The effect, the experts say, is being felt by cancer patients and those being treated for complex disorders such as hemophilia, multiple sclerosis and thalassemia, as well as transplant and kidney dialysis patients, none of whom can afford interruptions or delays in medical supplies.

These widely accepted sanctions were drafted to explicitly exempt medicine from the restrictions.  But the exemptions are not holding up as sanctions escalate.  To export medicine to Iran, American companies must first acquire a license from the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).  And those licenses only get them so far, according to FT:

Even those with a license report problems. Importers say that despite resorting to various more expensive financial channels, such as changing from one European bank to another or using middlemen and unofficial transactions, medicine does not arrive on time or in sufficient quantities.
‘We hold a license from the OFAC, but our imports have dropped by more than half while we pay much more than before,’ one importer said.‘The exemption of medicine from sanctions is only in theory,’ said another. ‘International banks do not accept Iran’s money for fear of facing U.S. punishment.’

Indeed, after NIAC and other concerned organizations worked to press the Obama Administration to issue a general license for earthquake relief, 14 out of 15 banks contacted said they would still not honor the license because of the risk of violating sanctions.
Even with such extreme shortages caused by the latest rounds of sanctions, there are few signs that either side is seriously concerned with fixing the problem.  The Iranian government claims the status quo is just fine, again from FT:

The government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says international sanctions have had little impact on the country and insists that its nuclear program should continue. It has launched a public relations campaign stressing that 97 percent of Iran’s medicine is produced domestically — a clear attempt to prevent panic that medical supplies could be at risk.

The problem is, even if the medicine is produced domestically, the raw supplies are imported.

Health analysts say that although the volume of imports affected may be small in percentage terms, the products that are involved are vital for chronic diseases for which domestically produced replacements either do not exist or are not as effective.
Iran’s pharmaceutical factories are said by health analysts and medical importers to be dependent on imports from Western countries, as well as China and India, for more than half of their raw materials.

And so ordinary Iranians suffer as the governments in Tehran and Washington continue down the road to confrontation.

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