Iran has highest reported number of deaths due to coronavirus outside China; Treasury re-imposed broad sanctions on Iran in November 2018; Senator raises concerns that this week’s moves to open humanitarian trade may be inadequate
WASHINGTON, D.C. — United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today sent letters to the Department of the Treasury and the Department of State expressing concern about the coronavirus spread in Iran and seeking assurances that U.S. sanctions on Iran are not hindering humanitarian transactions that would help counter and contain the spread of the disease in that country.
According to reports, at least 26 people have died in Iran from the coronavirus — the largest number of deaths of any country outside China — and 245 people are known to have been infected. Moreover, the disease has spread to countries neighboring and close to Iran, such as Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Despite the re-imposition of broad sanctions on Iran since November 2018 as part of the Trump Administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, only this week did the Treasury Department announce the creation of an operational humanitarian mechanism for Iran. Iran’s Central Bank (CBI) is the last remaining Iranian financial institution able to engage in foreign exchange transactions involving humanitarian imports. Consistent with this week’s announcement, Treasury issued a new general license that would theoretically provide an exception to the sanctions imposed against the CBI where necessary to facilitate humanitarian trade.
“Though these steps would appear on the surface to be sufficient, I am concerned that the limited nature of the exceptions and the fact that trade in general with Iran has been circumscribed by U.S. sanctions may make it difficult for urgently needed medical goods to get to Iran to combat the coronavirus,” wrote Senator Warren.
Senator Warren raised concerns about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, the chilling effect of broad-based sanctions on humanitarian transactions with Iran, and the unproven nature of Treasury’s mechanism for allowing successful humanitarian transactions. She has asked Secretaries Mnuchin and Pompeo whether the U.S. is taking every reasonable step to ensure the availability of medicine and other non-sanctionable humanitarian items to the Iranian people to combat the coronavirus in Iran and throughout the Middle East, including whether businesses, financial institutions, or other entities have actually used the license issued pursuant to the humanitarian mechanism.
“I am concerned about the vulnerability of the Iranian people to the coronavirus and the potential for Iran’s coronavirus cases to worsen the spread of the disease to neighboring countries, including regional allies, and to the rest of the world,” wrote Senator Warren. “Therefore, I seek an assurance that every reasonable effort is being made by the United States to ensure the availability of medicine and other non-sanctionable humanitarian items to the Iranian people to help prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.”
Senator Warren has requested responses to her inquiries by March 30, 2020.
Since the beginning of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Senator Warren has worked to ensure that the Trump Administration is effectively responding to the outbreak and that the U.S. has the resources needed to address this threat. Her ongoing efforts include the following:
- Earlier today she sent letters to each of the nation’s major banks with the largest exposures to the global economy, or the Global Systemically Important Banks (GSIBs), asking about the extent to which they are prepared for and monitoring risks tied to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
- Yesterday, she introduced legislation requiring all funds that have been appropriated to build a border wall — including funds directly appropriated by Congress and funds diverted by the executive branch from other accounts — to be immediately transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the purpose of combatting the novel coronavirus.
- Senator Warren wrote to federal agencies raising concerns over reports that appeared to show confusion and disagreement between federal officials earlier this month when State Department and HHS officials overruled Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations during the evacuation of American citizens with coronavirus from Japan.
- Senator Warren joined Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and 24 of their Senate colleagues pressing the Trump Administration to request emergency funding for the coronavirus response. Their letter to HHS and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also expressed their concerns over the Trump Administration’s failure to outline what additional resources it needs to respond to the rapidly developing coronavirus outbreak.
- Senator Warren and Senator Murray led 25 of their Senate colleagues urging the head of the National Security Council (NSC) to appoint a senior global health security expert to manage the response to the threat. Senators Warren and Murray first raised concerns about this lack of public health leadership at the NSC in May 2018.
- Senator Warren also joined Senator Murray and sent a letter to OMB and HHS opposing their decision to pull funding from existing public health programs to combat coronavirus rather than requesting supplemental funds from Congress.
- On February 13, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on a bipartisan letter calling on HHS to establish clear guidelines for how state and local governments will be reimbursed for costs incurred while assisting the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak.
- On February 3, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and 47 of their bipartisan colleagues calling on CDC to distribute rapid diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus as quickly as possible and to prioritize states with confirmed cases of the virus to receive the first available test kits.
- On January 31, 2020, after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States, Senators Warren and Angus King (I-Maine) questioned USAID on the agency’s 2019 decision to shutter PREDICT, a global infectious disease prevention program, which from 2009 to 2019, identified nearly 1,000 new viruses, including a new strand of Ebola; trained roughly 5,000 people; and improved or developed 60 research laboratories.
- Also in January 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and 29 of their Democratic Senate colleagues sending a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar requesting updates on the Administration’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and information on the steps being taken to keep families safe.
- Further, following the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s 2019 Annual Report that showed U.S. “growing reliance” on products critical to the manufacturing of drugs, which are primarily made in China, Senator Warren and a group of bipartisan senators wrote to the Department of Defense (DoD) seeking answers on how DoD is working to address the risk of reliance on foreign drug makers.