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Time now for the European Union to stand up against US sanctions on Iran

  • Martin Jay
  • 29 Mar 2020

The only thing holding this back is partisan mainstream media who refuse to report on the EU’s failure to be a partner of any sort to Iran.

A member of the Iranian Army works at a temporary hospital in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, March 26, 2020. The Iranian Army set up a 2,000 bed temporary hospital for the new coronavirus patients at the Iran International Exhibition Center in northern Tehran. ( AP )

The British media of late seems to be obsessed with Italy and how it is coping with the corona virus. Tomes of newspaper articles have followed up, it seems, on one simple but moving live TV interview with a doctor there who fought to hold back the tears as he spoke of those who have died and how doctors and nurses cannot cope with the epidemic.

International media, in particular in old Europe, is also feasting itself on the Italy story, which in recent days took a new turn when China tried to suggest through its own media that the virus actually started there and not in China as it is commonly believed. 

Conspiracy theorists seized on this and filled up our timelines about where and how it started while the levels of racism against China mounted to new, alarming levels.

Yet are the conspiracy theorists and mainstream media as a whole really doing the subject justice? Or are they pandering to Trump who would like nothing more than the media spotlight to stay focused on Europeans [read white folk] dying in hospitals in EU countries with the blame firmly attributed to China?

Just as European media refuses to cover quite important stories like the Yellow Vest movement in France, it seems that is also doing a pretty good job at navigating around the prickly subject of Iran’s US sanctions and the consequences they are having on the virus, which is having a gargantuan impact on people’s lives there. 

How did we just stop reporting on the biggest sufferer, by far, of the virus and how Trump’s sanctions are just throwing gasoline onto the fire?

Time and time again Trump made bold statements about how the sanctions would not affect medical supplies, which we all knew was folly as, when a currency tumbles, that automatically makes foreign drugs much more expensive – which, in itself, has cost lives in Iran. Few western journalists though care to mention this in their reports or opeds.

But worse, much worse, in the media scrum for corona coverage around the world, with stories which are closer to the hearts of Europeans – like the repatriation of British tourists in Morocco back to the UK or Boris Johnson being the last victim of the virus itself – the subject of Iran and a new story emerging there gets airbrushed out of the picture altogether.

There are now reports that vital medical aid, sent from the West to Iran is being blocked by Romanian and Bulgarian officials who, acting under the auspices of the US sanctions, are afraid to let the lorries through due to impunities measures which their governments will have to forebear.

How will we in the West, or indeed Trump supporters, sleep at night though? How will we recount to our children and grandchildren how the “war” on the corona virus actually meant that sanctions which we all support mean that thousands more Iranians drop deal like flies because of the nefarious undertone and intention of the sanctions? 

The Trump statement made in 2017 about the sanctions not affecting medicines and medical supplies was simply a lie. But will western hacks report on it?

Iran has just under 30,000 cases of corona at the time of writing, but in reality the figures could be much higher, perhaps even more than Italy or China.

But as footage emerges on social media of trucks laden with emergency medical equipment destined for Iran are stranded at EU borders, Europe is now complicit in the systematic destruction of Iran through an epidemic.

Bodies are literally piling up in morgues across the country as the world just focuses on selfish British people who panic buy in supermarkets or celebrities who contract the virus and whose lives are turned upside down by the inconvenience of having to remain confined to their gated Hollywood mansions.

This is the real story of corona. How we have lost our moral compass and become savages, signing off Trump’s sordid scheme to kill off thousands of Iranians while the world’s media failed to see the real story amidst the tomes of cliches replicated about pilgrimages and Islam. 

Surely the real story is how the EU – and individual EU governments - has not sent medical aid to Iran? Or rather that US sanctions are preventing such initiatives?

Apparently, Trump’s administration itself has offered medical aid to Iran but this, understandably, has been rejected by Iran’s leaders through fear it will be used to exploit the regime. 

But stories of face masks which the Iranians actually paid cash for, being blocked by the UK, should worry us all.

Is there a solution to this madness?

There are some calls for the sanctions to be suspended during the corona crisis, even from Democrats in the US, which is of course in line with what Iran’s foreign minister has urged the UN to rally behind. But these calls have fallen on deaf ears.

What's clear is that the media is playing a critical role in this argument not getting the bandwidth it deserves. And because of this vacuum on joined-up-reporting, we are now seeing the Trump administration in its true light. 

We are now seeing the sanctions plan against Iran in its naked state. We now see what Trump really wants.

Knowing full well that Tehran would not accept aid from the US, there is a darker side to Trump’s offer which is deeply worrying, which was recently exposed in a debate with the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who argues for – not against – military strikes in Iran, to finally bring the regime to its knees. 

As absurd as it sounds, the top people in the Trump administration see the corona virus crisis in Iran as an opportunity to seize.

But what of the EU, which has played such a central role in Iran’s post-US sanctions negotiations and whose new foreign policy chief is supposed to be a Trump adversary and a big supporter of the erstwhile ‘Iran Deal’?

Surely now is the time for the EU’s new foreign policy evangelist, Josep Borrell, to stand forward and to use the might of the 27-nation bloc to end the madness. The European Commission boss, Ursula Van Der Leyen, has berated the lack of unity among EU member states – highlighting two key points: when there is a real crisis in Europe, governments tend to ignore the EU beast and do their own thing; and secondly, that the EU itself is massively ill-equipped and under financed to make any real impact anyway to tackle the virus.

And so, while the Commission boss continues to dither, her deputy – Josep Borrell – remains silent on the key issue which is staring him in the face and will be his first real foreign policy failure: to let the issue of US sanctions on Iran pass.

The failure by the EU to push for an annulment of US sanctions is a shocking indictment of its own impotence on the big foreign policy stage, leaving the Americans to debate the subject alone.

Yet it is not important that Ilhan Omar is calling for the lifting of US sanctions on Iran. The idea is still the only sensible thing to do during these unprecedented times as, not only would it create a new opportunity for dialogue to begin between Washington and Iran, but it would also save thousands – perhaps scores of thousands of lives – of ordinary Iranians who actually don’t hate the west and don’t burn flags and chant ‘death to America’. 

The West needs now to stand up and be counted. And if Borrell won’t stand forward and do the right thing, then it will be down, once again, to EU member states to work multilaterally to do the right thing. And scrapping these evil sanctions during the corona pandemic is certainly the right thing, isn’t it?

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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