After Sen. Bernie Sanders and other progressive lawmakers last week called on the Trump administration to end its economic warfare against Iran amid the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden on Sunday refused to commit to even temporarily lifting U.S. sanctions on Iran that are severely restricting the country's access to essential medical supplies.
"There is no logic to these sanctions. They're cruel and unusual punishment, full stop."
—Sina Toossi, National Iranian American Council
"I don't have enough information about the situation in Iran right now," said Biden, the former vice president under the Obama administration, which negotiated the Iran nuclear accord that President Donald Trump scrapped in 2018.
"There's a lot of speculation from my foreign policy team that they're in real trouble and they're lying," said Biden. "But I would need more information to make that judgement. I don't have the national security information available."
EXCLUSIVE: Would Joe Biden temporarily lift sanctions on Iran during the coroanvirus pandemic? #MTP #IfItsSunday@JoeBiden: "There's a lot of speculation ... that they're in real trouble and they're lying. But I would need more information to make that judgement." pic.twitter.com/d6KFmcm9FZ
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) March 29, 2020
The dire situation in Iran has been international news for weeks and the public outcry over U.S. sanctions has been coming from human rights groups as well as Biden's fellow Democrats.
Biden's remarks on Sunday came a week after more than dozen members of Congress—including Sanders, Biden's remaining 2020 Democratic presidential rival—sent letters to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin demanding that the White House immediately lift sanctions on Iran as the nation attempts to combat one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the world.
"Rather than continue to pile on sanctions in the Iranian people's hour of need, we urge you to substantially suspend sanctions on Iran in a humanitarian gesture to the Iranian people to better enable them to fight the virus," reads a letter signed by Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and six other members of Congress.
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The letter was sent days after Pompeo announced that the Trump administration is imposing more sanctions on Iran in an effort to "deprive the regime of critical income from its petrochemical industry and further Iran's economic and diplomatic isolation."
Iran is facing a catastrophic toll from the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. sanctions should not be contributing to this humanitarian disaster.
As a caring nation, we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions. https://t.co/OBjff1nsxz
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) March 18, 2020
The U.S. reimposed sweeping sanctions on Iran in 2018 after Trump violated the Iran nuclear deal, effectively killing a signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration. On the campaign trail, Biden has condemned Trump's decision to withdraw from the agreement and vowed to return to the negotiating table with Iran if elected president.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that U.S. sanctions against Iran—where the coronavirus has officially infected more than 41,000 people and killed nearly 2,800—"have limited Tehran's ability to finance and purchase essential items from abroad, including drugs as well as the raw materials and equipment needed to manufacture medicines domestically."
"There is no logic to these sanctions," tweeted Sina Toossi, senior research analyst with the National Iranian American Council. "They're cruel and unusual punishment, full stop."
An anonymous employee of a major Iranian pharmaceutical company told the Post that "the sanctions have definitely made the import and production processes longer and more expensive."
"Some suppliers are afraid and not willing to work with us anymore," the person said. "The sanctions have reduced Iran's capacity to control the outbreak."