State Department Responds to Congressional Sanctions Concerns

Washington, D.C. – Last December, NIAC worked with Rep. Jared Huffman and a group of 13 lawmakers who sent a letter to the the State Department regarding the dire humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions on the Iranian people. On February 15, the State Department sent its response to the lawmakers. Rep. Huffman’s letter requested responses on the following questions:

  1. Is it a deliberate strategy of the Trump administration to starve the Iranian people or deprive them of basic medicines? If not, what substantive steps has the administration taken to ensure the Iranian people have continued access to life-saving medicines?
  2. Which foreign nations have expressed concern about the humanitarian impact of U.S. sanctions on Iran, and what have they asked the administration to do to ensure the free flow of humanitarian goods to Iran?
  3. According to a report in The Guardian, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have pushed both the State and Treasury Departments to produce a “white list” that would “give clear guidelines about what channels European banks and companies should follow to conduct legitimate transactions with Iran without fear of future penalties.” Has the State or Treasury Departments acted upon this proposal to establish a white channel to ensure the flow of humanitarian goods? If not, why not?
  4. What additional measures have been contemplated to ensure the free flow of humanitarian goods to the Iranian people? If these were rejected, why were they rejected?
  5. Are broader license authorizations or exemptions necessary to ensure the flow of humanitarian goods to Iran? If not, what is the evidence for this assessment?

Unfortunately, the State Department failed to directly address these questions or acknowledge accountability for the humanitarian impacts of sanctions on ordinary Iranians. The response sidestepped any responsibility to uphold U.S. legal obligations to ensure essential goods, like food and medicine, are not blocked by sanctions. Yet, this is not the position of key U.S. allies in Europe, as the Huffman letter articulated.

As French ambassador to the U.S. Gerard Araud stated in November 2018: “The fact is the banks are so terrified of sanctions that they don’t want to do anything with Iran. It means that in a few months, there is a strong risk that there will be shortage of medicine in Iran if we don’t do something positive.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Negative Effects of Unilateral Coercive Measures has also warned that the administration’s reimposed sanctions “are destroying the economy and currency of Iran, driving millions of people into poverty, and making imported goods unaffordable.” Such concerns have led the European Union and Switzerland to create separate independent financial channels to facilitate humanitarian trade with Iran.

The administration’s failure to take these issues to heart is deeply concerning, as it appears to rule out steps that could alleviate the impact of sanctions on the same Iranian citizenry that the administration professes to support.

NIAC greatly appreciates Rep. Huffman and the lawmakers with whom he worked to spotlight this critical issue and for his efforts to hold the administration accountable to its humanitarian obligations. We will continue to work with its allies to shine a light on the impact of broad sanctions on the Iranian people and push the administration on its failure to properly facilitate humanitarian exemptions to U.S. sanctions.

The full text of the State Department’s response is below and Rep. Huffman’s original letter can be read here.

State Department Response to Congressional Sanctions Concerns

Rep. Jared Huffman and House Democrats Press the Trump Administration on Ensuring Sanctions & Humanitarian Aid

WASHINGTON D.C. — Earlier today, a letter organized by Rep. Jared Huffman and signed by 14 members of Congress demanded that the Trump Administration ensure that sanctions do not result in the blocking of humanitarian goods – like food and medical items – from reaching the Iranian people.

Jamal Abdi, President of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement, praising the letter and warning of a potential humanitarian crisis in Iran caused by overcompliance with US sanctions:

“There are strong indications that Donald Trump’s plan for Iran is to impose collective punishment on the Iranian people in violation of not just the Iran nuclear deal but of U.S. and international law. That’s why it is so important that Rep. Jared Huffman’s letter, backed by 14 Members of Congress, pressed the administration to ensure sanctions do not block humanitarian goods – like basic food stocks and medicines – from reaching the Iranian people.

“Since sanctions snapped back, we’ve already seen numerous reports on medicine shortages and skyrocketing costs of basic goods in Iran. The Iranian-American community knows this impact well, as many have heard from loved ones who are directly victimized. While the U.S. has exempted humanitarian trade on paper, in practice very few banks are willing to process humanitarian transactions out of the overriding fear of U.S. sanctions violations. Just today, reports indicated that three major global traders had halted food supply deals with Iran because sanctions have choked off all viable financial channels for the supposedly exempted goods.

“America’s European allies are pressing the Trump administration directly for guidance on how to process humanitarian transactions to avert a humanitarian crisis in Iran. Rather than deflect, the administration must engage seriously with the concerns raised by both Europe and Members of Congress and take proactive measures to facilitate humanitarian trade.

“The National Iranian American Council and its members are thankful for the leadership of Rep. Huffman and all of the Members who signed his timely letter, and looks forward to taking further action on this important issue in the new Congress.”

# # # # #