Loans and Sanctions Relief Won’t Cure Iran — Only a Better Regime Will

By Aaron Kliegman

The Iranian government, an Islamist theocracy, brutalizes its own people on a daily basis. Indeed, the regime abuses women, hangs homosexuals, kills peaceful protesters, weaponizes rape in its prisons, and persecutes ethnic and religious minorities, among countless other violations of human rights.

Yet this same regime is now demanding that the world give it money to — get this — help the Iranian people who it so cruelly oppresses. Specifically, Tehran wants the US to ease economic sanctions and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to grant a $5 billion loan in emergency funding — both supposedly so Iran has more resources to fight the coronavirus, which has devastated the country.

To achieve both goals, the regime is leading an international campaign to pressure Washington and the IMF, accusing the former of “medical terrorism” and the latter of “discrimination” if they refuse Iran’s demands. The Trump administration says it will not lift sanctions and opposes the IMF granting the loan.

Good. Loans and relief from sanctions won’t cure Iran — only a better regime will.

It is farcical that an abusive, tyrannical government would seek the world’s support to help those who it consistently abuses and tyrannizes. Yet, as usual, Iran has many sympathetic friends in the West who are echoing Tehran’s talking points. That these people want the Trump administration to ease sanctions and support the IMF loan reveals a troubling truth: Many of our most influential elites are either wildly ignorant or blinded to the facts by a desire to reach a rapprochement with Iran at all costs, both moral and strategic.

Let’s start with the mainstream media. “Refusing to relax sanctions against Iran right now is sociopathic madness,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes wrote on Twitter. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post editorialized that the US should lift sanctions and urged the IMF to grant the loan.

In Congress, meanwhile, dozens of Democrats in both chambers have spent weeks calling on the administration to ease sanctions and support Iran’s request for the $5 billion loan. So, too, has Joe Biden, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee for president.

Dozens of former diplomats and defense officials from the US and Europe have done the same. And, of course, alumni of the Obama administration are pushing Iran’s arguments, even blaming American sanctions for the coronavirus’ spread in Iran.

All of these voices have argued that reaching out to Iran is the moral, humanitarian thing to do. Some have even said that such outreach will help Washington achieve its strategic goals toward Iran. This is all nonsense, for several reasons.

First, there are no American sanctions on humanitarian assistance to Iran. I repeat: Sanctions imposed by the US on Iran have always provided exceptions for humanitarian aid such as food, medicine, and medical devices. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said as much, and the facts speak for themselves. For example, pharmaceutical trade between Europe and Iran has hardly changed since 2011, and many American companies and their non-American affiliates continue to export humanitarian items to Iran — all despite sanctions. Plus, the Treasury Department recently allowed humanitarian trade and foreign transactions with the Central Bank of Iran, in part to counter the coronavirus — even though the US has sanctioned the bank for supporting terrorism.

In short, Iran can get any medical equipment that it wants — if not from the US, then from other countries like China. And Iran seems to be getting assistance just fine. Top Iranian officials repeatedly say that sanctions are not impeding their efforts to combat the coronavirus outbreak, and that they are handling the crisis well. So, what’s the problem? Why ask for an emergency loan if the government is handling the coronavirus crisis well, with sanctions not interfering? Either sanctions are crippling Iran amid the pandemic, or they aren’t, but it can’t be both. In other words, the regime is either lying about needing more money, or it’s covering up a mismanaged response to the coronavirus (and therefore hurting its own people). Regardless, Tehran can’t be trusted.

Of course, the regime doesn’t care about the wellbeing of its people. In fact, Tehran has often diverted humanitarian aid for other purposes, including illicit finance and other efforts to support its war machine across the Middle East. Clearly, money from the IMF and eased American sanctions could easily go toward malign activities if the money goes through the regime. This is why international aid to Iran must go through NGOs and other organizations that can circumvent the regime, so assistance gets to the Iranian people, not their abusers.

Iran can easily find more money to spend on the coronavirus. As experts at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies recently noted, the regime has billions upon billions of dollars in foreign currency reserves, sovereign wealth funds, and elsewhere that it can use to fight the coronavirus. The problem is that Iran chooses instead to spend billions of dollars supporting terrorism and waging war in the Middle East, especially Syria, and on its nuclear program. Not to mention the regime is wildly corrupt and launders money.

Maybe America will end its “medical terrorism” against Iran when Iran ends its real terrorism. Sounds like a fair trade. But Iran, just recently, used its proxies in Iraq to attack American troops and denied access to international nuclear inspectors. So, don’t hold your breath.

Regarding the coronavirus specifically, Iran’s real problem is that it has mismanaged the crisis. Putting aside that Iranian officials have, like their Chinese counterparts, suggested that the virus is an American biological weapon, the regime refuses to implement social distancing like so many other countries. Even if the regime puts new money toward fighting the coronavirus, it won’t help if the funds are used incompetently.

The journalists, pundits, politicians, and alumni of the Obama administration who want the US to lift sanctions and the IMF to grant its loan probably think they are doing the right thing, the moral thing. But the reality is that they are the ones in Washington and other Western capitals hurting the Iranian people, not those brutish warmongers who want to keep up the financial pressure on Iran.

Indeed, those who want the US to keep pressing Iran have the moral clarity to understand that the regime is doing far worse to the Iranian people — and the strategic clarity to understand that such a regime, with a belligerent desire to dominate the Middle East, will always be a menace to the world as long as it exists.

Aaron Kliegman is a freelance writer based in Virginia. Previously, he was a staff writer and news editor at the Washington Free Beacon, where he wrote analysis and commentary on foreign policy and national security. Aaron’s work has been published in a range of publications, and he has a master’s degree in international relations. Aaron is now writing regular columns for the Inner Circle as a contributor, and I am excited to have him on the Gingrich 360 team. — Newt