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Introduction

Iran has been severely hit by the corona virus pandemic. The total number of cases in Iran were estimated at well over 1,00000 (1,0,3135) while deaths so far as a result of the pandemic are estimated at 6,486.

 Tehran sought assistance, to the tune of 5 Billion USD, from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under the Rapid Financial Instrument RFI, which has been set up (Iran has sought IMF assistance for the first time since 1962) . It has also repeatedly urged the international community for the removal of US sanctions, so that it is better placed to deal with the pandemic. Iran’s demand for the removal of sanctions has received support from the United Nations (UN), Secretary General, Antonio Guterres (The UN Secretary General had written a letter to G20 members to waive not just Iranian sanctions, but those imposed against other countries such as Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela).

While the US has stated, that it will provide assistance, it has actually imposed further sanctions in the midst of the pandemic. Washington is also attempting more stringent sanctions on Iran (which existed before the P5+1 Nuclear Agreement also known as JCPOA – Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and an arms embargo. The Trump administration is likely to build up a case, that legally it is still part of the JCPOA. Through this strategy, US is keen to push Iran to a corner, and renegotiate a new deal. The US President, Donald Trump had mooted the idea of a fresh deal with Iran in January 2020 (UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson had supported Trump’s proposal). Tehran was quick to dismiss such an idea, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saying that this was a ‘strange’ offer

Unnecessary statements by Iranian leadership

While Trump administration’s approach towards Iran has been criticized, Iranian leadership also made some unnecessary statements, which have not really been beneficial. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that coronavirus could be an American conspiracy (he was echoing the views of a Senior Chinese Diplomat who blamed the US army for the outbreak of the pandemic). He also stated that medical assistance from the west could not be trusted. Iran refused assistance from Doctors without Borders (MSF), an international humanitarian NGO. MSF had offered to send a 9 member team along with equipment for setting up a 50 bed hospital. Certain ultra conservative lobbies within Iran however argued, that this team could serve as ‘spies’.

In the midst of Trump administration’s rigid approach vis-à-vis Iran, and the hostility vis-à-vis the west, France, Germany and Britain provided medical assistance to Iran, through the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), named INSTEX to circumvent US Sanctions on Iran (INSTEX came into being in January 2019). The medical assistance reached Iran on March 31, 2020. This move sent an unequivocal message, that even US allies were not in agreement, with the Trump Administration’s approach towards Iran.

More recently, Japan which itself is dealing with the pandemic assured Iran, that it would provide flu drug, and potential treatment for the coronavirus, Avigan free of cost to Iran (Iran will be sending Avigan to over 40 countries). This decision is important for a number of reasons. First, Tokyo a close ally of Washington DC, has not toed Washington’s line. Second, this will help Tokyo not just in the strategic sense, but also in enhancing it’s Soft Power.

Japan-Iran ties

Tokyo and Tehran have shared a reasonably good relationship even after the US withdrawal from JCPOA. In Fact, Tokyo has been used by Washington to mediate and reduce tensions between Iran and the US. The Japanese PM, Shinzo Abe visited Iran in June 2019 for this purpose. Abe became the first Japanese Premier to visit Iran after the 1979 revolution, and the first G7 leader to visit Iran after the US withdrawal from JCPOA).

In September 2019 after drone strikes on Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities, not just the US, but EU countries, France, Germany and UK blamed Iran. Japan however stated that it was unfair to blame Tehran. Japanese Defence Minister, Taro Kono stated that there was no information which suggested that Iran was involved in the attack.

While, US may have not helped Iran in the coronavirus pandemic, and the Trump administration is likely to up the ante vis-à-vis Iran in the run up to the US Presidential elections (as is evident from statements made by US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo) Tehran needs to be pragmatic since it is not just battling the coronavirus pandemic, but also has the additional challenge of an economy already in the doldrums. The assistance provided to Iran by US allies like Japan, UK, Germany and France is important because these countries have an important role to play not just in ensuring that conflict between Tehran and Washington does not escalate, but also in providing assistance to Tehran in dealing with the pandemic.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while the Trump administration’s approach towards Iran is not helping it is important that Germany, France, UK and Japan keep the channels of communication open with Tehran, so that it does not take any steps which result in further tensions with the US and instability in the Middle East. In a post coronavirus world, it is likely that not just on the Iran issue, but other crucial economic and geo-political issues, countries like Germany, France, UK and Japan will work collectively, and not bank on Washington to take the lead (given the fact that in recent years, US has become more isolationist).


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. 


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