The U.S. plans to block Iran’s request for a $5 billion emergency International Monetary Fund loan to fight coronavirus, the latest signal that the Trump administration isn’t going to ease up its maximum-pressure campaign despite a growing international outcry.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has billions of dollars stashed away that could be tapped to fight the virus, according to a senior administration official, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations. Iran wouldn’t meet IMF financial transparency requirements regardless, the official said.
The Trump administration says Iran has rebuffed its offers of help. Officials have also pointed to remarks by President Hassan Rouhani that U.S. sanctions haven’t prevented Iran — one of the worst-hit nations in the pandemic — from getting the medicine it needs.
The U.S. stance was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Rouhani’s message has been contradictory: In a cabinet meeting shown on state TV, Rouhani accused the U.S. of engaging in “medical terrorism” because of its sanctions on Iran’s economy and urged the international community to support its bid for financial support from the IMF.
“We are a member of the IMF and we have paid into the fund like other countries,” Rouhani said. “We have a right to have access to this support.”
Blocking the loan reflects the administration’s belief that some Iranian officials, especially Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, have tried to exploit the pandemic as part of a broader campaign to get U.S. sanctions lifted. Backed by supporters including the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, they argue that Khamenei has at least $300 billion he’s refusing to tap to fight the virus and U.S. sanctions have carve-outs for humanitarian sales to Iran.
The U.S. insistence comes in the face of increased international demands from Iranian allies China and Russia, partners in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Trump abandoned, along with some European nations, for the U.S. to relax its sanctions. Iran has had about 65,000 reported cases of Covid-19 and approximately 4,000 reported deaths, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
Critics of the administration’s approach argue that rules governing the U.S. humanitarian channel are too onerous to be useful, mostly because of stringent bank reporting requirements. They also argue that easing sanctions would send a powerful message to regular Iranians that the U.S. is on their side and wants to help.
Regular Iranians are “fed all sorts of propaganda by the Supreme Leader and his allies, but that propaganda is made a whole lot easier because of a U.S. sanctions policy that is coming down like a ton of bricks on the Iranian people,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said at a briefing with the nonprofit J Street on Tuesday.
At the same time, the U.S. has been forced to hold off from a total sanctions clampdown on Iran. Last week, the administration extended a series of sanctions waivers that allow Russia and China to conduct limited nuclear work with Iran, in part because sanctioning those two countries’ nuclear industries would deny the U.S. materials it needs to fight coronavirus, another senior administration official said.
In particular, the U.S. relies on Russia for supplies of Cobalt 60, which is used to sterilize medical equipment, and losing that now would deal a blow to efforts to halt the pandemic, according to the official.
(Updates throughout with details of Iranian request and U.S. plans)