October 19, 2021

NIAC Urges Biden to Prioritize Humanitarian Relief as part of Sanctions Review

Washington DC — Ryan Costello, Policy Director with the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), issued the following statement on the Treasury Department’s 2021 Sanctions Review, which listed out a series of principles to guide the administration’s use of sanctions.

“While we were pleased when the Biden administration announced its review of U.S. sanctions policies earlier this year, the review released yesterday only sets out a series of principles that are supposed to guide the administration’s use of sanctions moving forward. Communities that have felt the full force of U.S. sanctions have been waiting and organizing for relief from sanctions, including immediate steps to help combat the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. There is deep frustration and disappointment that this process has not moved more urgently and that virtually all of Trump’s Iran sanctions remain in place deep into the first year of Biden’s presidency.

“As many as 200,000 Iranians have died of the COVID-19 pandemic that has been exacerbated by U.S. sanctions that have systematically narrowed channels of humanitarian trade with Iran. The U.S. must make long overdue changes to its sanctions regime and rethink the dangerous rise of sanctions that are a part of, not an alternative to, the forever wars that the vast majority of Americans want to end. 

“Particularly in the midst of the ongoing pandemic, countless lives depend on the administration moving swiftly to follow through on its commitment to ‘mitigate unintended economic, political and humanitarian impact’ and to ‘address more systematically the challenges associated with conducting humanitarian activities…in heavily sanctioned jurisdictions.’ Serious steps on this score require concrete actions to make humanitarian exemptions universal, ensure that sanctions do not inhibit the distribution of vaccines, open clear channels for humanitarian trade and freeing up money and investments to support public health infrastructure in sanctioned countries. The rollout of these changes must happen as soon as possible and in coordination with impacted communities, humanitarian organizations, vaccine manufacturers and distributors and financial institutions across the globe.

“The review sets out an overarching goal of using sanctions more strategically, including by considering whether they support a discrete U.S. policy goal, are the right tool for the job, avoid collateral damage on non-targeted populations and are reversible. Iran sanctions represent the most extensive U.S. sanctions regime and ultimately fail on all of these counts. The prior administration’s pursuit of ”maximum pressure” sanctions led to an expanding Iranian nuclear program, broad-based humanitarian impacts and diminished belief in Iran that sanctions could ever be reversed. Unfortunately, those sanctions are also now an albatross that risk sinking U.S. diplomatic efforts on Iran because of legitimate questions as to whether the U.S. can truly provide sanctions relief. 

“President Biden must now follow up words with actions. While the report was far from comprehensive, if applied the principles could lead to concrete, near-term steps to ensure that we are not punishing ordinary Iranians, exacerbating the pandemic and frustrating diplomatic opportunities. We call on the Biden administration to act with urgency and safeguard both U.S. interests and the humanitarian needs of populations across the globe.”

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