A set of draconian new restrictions imposed by the United States on much of Iran’s banking sector has been denounced as “state terrorism” and “crimes against humanity” by the Tehran administration.
The US move was designed to punish Iran just as its outbreak of coronavirus reached record levels of death and infection.
The administration of President Donald Trump, goaded by hardline idealogues in Washington, placed restrictions on almost all of Iran’s banks, including those that have never been accused of moving money for weapons or connected to the Revolutionary Guard.
“Our sanctions are directed at the regime and its corrupt officials that have used the wealth of the Iranian people to fuel a radical, revolutionary cause that has brought untold suffering across the Middle East and beyond,” US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
The move comes just weeks before US elections in which Mr. Trump is struggling to fend off a challenge by former vice president Joe Biden, and ahead of an anticipated debate next week expected to focus on foreign policy.
The sanctions come as Iran grapples with what alarmed public health officials are describing as a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, with daily new infections reaching record levels and upwards of 230 people a day dying of COVID-19.
Iran is the Middle East country most afflicted with the pandemic, and Iranian hospitals are so overwhelmed that on Friday they barred all non-emergency visits.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, called the new sanctions a “crime against humanity” while the country’s envoy to the United Nations, MajidTakht-Ravanchi, described them as “state terrorism and economic and medical terrorism, which are carried out through unilateral coercive measures”.
The new sanctions punish any entity doing business with 18 Iranian banks.
In public statements, US officials did not cite what rules if any the banks had breached, but Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin insisted the restrictions were necessary “to stop illicit access to US dollars”, and would continue “until Iran stops its support of terrorist activities and ends its nuclear programmes”.
Experts say the banks under scrutiny are those long considered uninvolved in the financing of terrorism, money laundering or arms procurement.
“Designations are being made without evidence of specific wrongdoing,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, a specialist on Iranian economic matters who runs the website Bourse & Bazaar. “It’s not clear what these sanctions are intended to achieve beyond this idea of creating uncertainty and additional barriers and making the operation of routine trade with Iran more difficult.”
Mr. Mnuchin said the US would “continue to allow for humanitarian transactions to support the Iranian people,” but did not specify what mechanism would allow for such trade.
Experts say the blanket ban on Iranian banks will make any purchase of pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and food more difficult, complicated and expensive.
Mr. Zarif was in Beijing on Friday, likely discussing the impact of the sanctions with China, which is a major Iranian trade partner.
The United Kingdom, France and Germany have opposed the US policy. (Source: Independent UK)