US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held out the possibility on Tuesday that the United States may consider easing sanctions on Iran and other nations to help fight the coronavirus epidemic but gave no concrete sign it plans to do so.
The comments reflected a shift in tone by the US State Department, which has come under withering criticism for its hard line toward sanctions relief even in the face of a call by the UN secretary-general to ease US economic penalties.
Pompeo stressed that humanitarian supplies are exempt from sanctions Washington re-imposed on Tehran after President Donald Trump abandoned Iran’s 2015 multilateral deal to limit its nuclear program.
Startling revelation by #Iran's President @HassanRouhani that the regime's concerted effort to lift U.S. sanctions isn’t about fighting the pandemic. It's about cash for the regime’s leaders. pic.twitter.com/gyDFkgdYGI— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) March 28, 2020
However, broader US sanctions deter many firms from humanitarian trade with Iran, one of the nations hardest hit by the coronavirus epidemic.
Asked if there might come a point at which Washington might re-evaluate its stance on easing sanctions, Pompeo told reporters: “We evaluate all of our policies constantly, so the answer is - would we ever rethink? - Of course.”
Asked about such relief on March 20, Pompeo simply said US sanctions do not apply to medical and other humanitarian goods.
Washington is pursuing a “maximum pressure” policy to try to force Tehran to curb its nuclear, missile and regional activities.
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Iran has accused the United States of “medical terror,” prompting Pompeo’s spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, on Monday to tweet: “Stop lying. ... It’s not the sanctions. It’s the regime.”
France, Germany and Britain have exported medical goods to Iran in the first transaction under a trade mechanism set up to barter humanitarian goods and food, Germany said.