By Mohammad Mazhari

Sanctions will hamper Iran’s access to medicine and medical equipment: Carleton University professor

October 14, 2020 - 13:22

TEHRAN – A professor of Carleton University says that American sanctions will make Iran’s access to medicines and medical equipment difficult even if, technically, such humanitarian goods are generally exempted from sanctions.

 “Inevitably it will be more difficult for Iran to access certain medicines and medical equipment even if, technically, such humanitarian goods are generally exempted from sanctions,” Dane Rowlands tells the Tehran Times. 
“Even if other countries try to circumvent the sanctions and deliver humanitarian goods such as food and medicine, the U.S. sanctions will likely impose serious, though ultimately probably diminishing, barriers to the needed flow of goods,” Rowlands says.

The following is the text of the interview:

Q:    What is your analysis of Donald Trump’s pullout from the 2015 nuclear deal (JCPO) with Iran? What were his motives for such an action? 

“One of President Trump's primary policy objectives is to reverse everything his predecessor did in both foreign and domestic policy, regardless of what the issue is.”A: Iran has been a target of U.S. foreign policy since the revolution in 1979, and the seizure of American embassy personnel as hostages. Since then, the spiral of mutual antagonism has made Iran an easy target for the U.S., since there are no foreign policy needs or domestic electoral benefits for the U.S. from having better relations with Iran. The closest thing to a rapprochement was under President Obama, but one of President Trump's primary policy objectives is to reverse everything his predecessor did in both foreign and domestic policy, regardless of what the issue is. Since President Obama negotiated the JCPOA with the other various signatories, President Trump wished to withdraw. President Trump's administration has often included foreign policy hardliners, especially against Iran. So, Iran is a cheap and easy way for the current administration to shore up electoral support and support from allies in the region (Israel and Saudi Arabia). 

Q:    How do you see the repercussions of the American unilateral sanctions on Iran's health system?

A: I am not an expert on Iran's health system, but inevitably it will be more difficult for Iran to access certain medicines and medical equipment even if, technically, such humanitarian goods are generally exempted from sanctions. The U.S.'s ability to extend the reach of its sanctions is due to the centrality of the U.S. in the international payments system, which it has been using with increasing frequency as a means of punishing opposing countries.  So even if other countries try to circumvent the sanctions and deliver humanitarian goods such as food and medicine, the U.S. sanctions will likely impose serious, though ultimately probably diminishing, barriers to the needed flow of goods. 

Q:    Why are the European countries reluctant to stand against U.S. sanctions and unilateral policies?

“Most experts would conclude that the sanction will never work against a determined target state in a case like this, so much of the value of sanctions to the Trump administration is in domestic electoral support from his base.”A: The Europeans are closely tied to the U.S. in economic and security terms, so they wish to minimize the damage the U.S. inflicts on them by being careful how they deal with the sanctions. I think the Europeans would like to avoid the sanctions, but it will be costly, and the benefits of getting along with Iran are much less than the benefits of getting along with the U.S. Iran has not made their situation better by its own regional policies, which many outside Iran, including in Europe, see as destabilizing. Iran's human rights record also does not make it popular in Europe. In any event, the real European decisions will take place after the U.S. election, when they see the outcome. If Trump is re-elected, then they have some difficult decisions to make. I suspect they are hoping that if there a newly elected President Biden, the U.S. may reconsider its Iran policy and its withdrawal from the JCPOA. 

Q:    Don’t you expect major powers such as China and Russia to form a new economic alliance to confront U.S. economic hegemony?
A: No. There is no real common ground between Russia and China, except perhaps antagonism towards the U.S. and its allies. China will try to establish alternatives to systems heavily influenced or controlled by the U.S., such as financial transfer systems, but it is doubtful they will become as desirable for other countries to access. In the end, the U.S. and Europe have too much in common to abandon the common mechanisms they currently share, and they are too big and influential for most countries to ignore. Eventually, the U.S. will also realize that abusing their power in these systems and organizations is not in their long-term interest, and hopefully become more restrained.

Q:    Do you think Trump's sanctions measures have succeeded to change Iran's behavior?
A: No. I think it is an abject failure in terms of achieving any real progress. My preference is dialogue, which could have built on the framework of the JCPOA. I am not supportive of many countries' foreign policies in the region: the U.S., Iran, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Russia, Turkey, or Syria. But I think discussion and incremental progress is better than confrontation and the imposition of severe humanitarian costs on civilians. However, most experts would conclude that the sanction will never work against a determined target state in a case like this, so much of the value of sanctions to the Trump administration is in domestic electoral support from his base.


Q:     How do you evaluate the new U.S. sanctions on 18 Iranian banks? 
A: Recent U.S. foreign policy has not really been carefully thought through. Certainly not from a long-term perspective. In the case of sanctions on Iran, the objective is to cause as much harm and disruption as possible to generate maximum pressure (even though I cannot imagine that any serious policy analyst in the U.S. thinks it will cause Iran to change behavior). The best-case scenario is the next administration, whether Trump or Biden, offers meaningful negotiations as an alternative to the sanctions, making Iran choose between the two and thus also start to offer some compromises. I am not really hopeful this policy will work if Trump is re-elected, but I would be happy to be wrong.  

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