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

UM Amherst

NIAC Applauds UMass Policy Reversal

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jamal Abdi 
Phone: 202-386-6408
Email: jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC – The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) welcomes the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s decision today to reverse its policy to ban Iranian students from certain fields and looks forward to learning more about its new approach. NIAC President Trita Parsi released the following statement:

“Sanctions have caused many problems, but they are not an excuse to discriminate against Iranian students. UMass has done the right thing to correct its mistake and we look forward to learning full details about how its new policy will ensure Iranian students are not discriminated against.

“We sympathize with the burdens that the sanctions have imposed on academic institutions and hope that eventually these measures are lifted.  Broad sanctions have punished many unintended victims but today’s action ensures that further pain will not be passed onto young Iranians who aspire to study in American universities.

“NIAC congratulates the UMass students and faculty who successfully raised objections to this policy and appreciates the efforts of the State Department and Treasury Department for working with the school directly to address this issue.

“NIAC has worked to resolve the impact of sanctions on Iranian students many times in the past, including when TOEFL tests were suspended for Iranians, online courses were restricted for people inside Iran, and in the effort to secure multiple-entry student visa privileges for Iranians. We are pleased to have played a role in ensuring this latest problem was addressed.

“Ultimately, these issues will not go away until broad sanctions are lifted. We hope that diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran can succeed in eventually achieving this. In the meantime, we will continue to work to prevent sanctions from punishing ordinary Iranians and Iranian Americans.”

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