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Introduction

France, Germany and UK used the INSTEX,  Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges, mechanism (which had been set up with the purpose of bypassing US sanctions) to export medical aid to Iran for fighting the Corona Virus (the medical equipment reached Iran on March 31, 2020).  INSTEX, set up in January 2019,  had been formed with the intention of bypassing US sanctions on Iran, which had been imposed after the US withdrew from the P5+1-Iran nuclear agreement (also referred to as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action JCPOA) in 2018.

The move to set up INSTEX had been criticised by Senior members of the Trump Administration, including US Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and Former National Security Advisor (NSA) John Bolton.

Commenting on the medical aid provided to Iran, the German Foreign Ministry in a tweet stated:

France, Germany and the United Kingdom confirm that INSTEX has successfully concluded its first transaction, facilitating the export of medical goods from Europe to Iran. INSTEX and its Iranian counterpart STFI will work on more transactions and enhancing the mechanism.

UK, France and Germany themselves are battling the Corona Virus. As of March 31, 2020 the number of Corona Virus cases in UK was well over 25000, while the number of deaths caused by it was 1,789. In Germany, the total number of cases was estimated at 67,366 and the number of deaths caused by the virus is estimated at 732.

Iran’s appeal for assistance

In the past few weeks, Iran has appealed on more than one occasion for international assistance to fight the corona virus. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a letter addressed to world leaders, on March 13, 2020, sought assistance for fighting the corona virus, saying that the ‘virus knows no boundary’. Rouhani also stated, that US imposed sanctions had caused immense damage – to the tune of 2 Billion USD —  to the Iranian economy arguing that even companies from countries which were signatories to the JCPOA had followed these sanctions. As of April 1, 2020 the death toll from the corona virus was estimated at over 3,000 (3036) and the total number of cases was 47,593.

Iran had also sought IMF assistance, to the tune of 5 Billion USD, under the Rapid Financial Instrument (this is the first time since 1962, that Iran has sought IMF assistance). The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres has also been forceful in his demand of removal of sanctions against countries. During the meeting of G20 heads of state, Guterres made the point that sanctions imposed against other countries, including Iran needed to be removed.  Ambassadors of eight countries to the UN (Iran, Russia, Syria, China, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua) had also written a letter to the UN Secretary General requesting removal of sanctions, so that they could deal more effectively with the crisis arising out of the spread of the corona virus.

While the US has been saying, that it is willing to provide humanitarian and medical assistance to Iran, it actually imposed further sanctions on March 18, 2020 (this included sanctions against three individuals and entities in South Africa, Hong Kong and China). Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif in a tweet stated that US was now indulging in ‘…. MedicalTerror amidst #covid19iran. This even ‘exceeds what would be permissible on the battlefield,’

On March 31, 2020, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo extended some of the existing waivers (which were provided under the JCPOA). Under these waivers, companies from UK, Europe and Russia could work in Iranian Nuclear facilities. One of the main reason for extending these waivers was the growing criticism which the US has been facing for not providing a waiver to Iran.

Strong reaction of Iran’s Supreme Leader

It would be pertinent to point out, that while the Iranian government has been requesting assistance, the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, had stated, that Iran would not accept any assistance from US, saying that Tehran could not trust the US.

Said Khamenei, “I do not know how real this accusation is but when it exists, who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication?

Earlier, Iran had refused assistance from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) stating that it did not need help from foreign forces. The France based charity had offered to send a nine-member team, and equipment to set up a 50-bed hospital (it has been argued, that certain conservative sections were against accepting Western assistance).

EU’s decision to send medical aid to Iran is important for a number of reasons:

 First, it has sent a clear message, that in spite of their own fight against the Corona Virus they are willing to extend a helping hand. So far, the western world especially the US has drawn flak while China, Russia and Cuba have provided assistance to a number of countries.

Second, Iran had accused EU of not doing enough for getting US to remove sanctions, and this step will help in the improvement of ties. Post the attack on a Saudi Oil Facility, ties between Iran and EU had witnessed a significant down turn with Germany, France and UK accusing Iran of being responsible for the attacks.

Third, once the current crisis is over, there is scope for greater cooperation between the western world, including the US, and Iran. Apart from Germany, France and UK’s assistance to Iran, Pompeo’s decision to extend waivers could mean that lobbies in the US and outside which have been encouraging a more pragmatic stance vis-à-vis Iran.

Conclusion

Medical assistance provided by UK, France and Germany has sent a positive signal, even though Iran needs much more financial and medical support from the outside world. While so far China has been hailed for the steps it has taken with regard to providing aid to developing countries, the recent step by UK, France and Germany will also blunt the skewed narrative being promoted by Beijing.


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