Biden can win Tehran’s trust by facilitating shipments of COVID vaccines to Iran: LA Times

January 4, 2021 - 22:13

In an op-ed published on January 3, the Los Angeles Times said the incoming Biden administration, which is seeking to restore the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, could build trust with Tehran through facilitating the purchase of vaccine by Iran to control the Coronavirus pandemic.

“If the Biden administration works out a COVID deal that facilitates shipments of vaccines to the Iranian people, it will win over the hearts and minds of millions in that country,” said the op-ed written by John W. Limbert, a former professor of Western Asian studies at the U.S. Naval Academy, and Bahman Baktiari, the executive director of the Baskerville Institute.  

Following is part of the article:

This moment of a global pandemic offers an unusual opportunity for cooperation. Despite their mutual hostility, the two countries today are on the same side of a war against an enemy that has killed more than 347,000 Americans and more than 55,000 Iranians. 

Although the Biden administration and the Europeans want to resuscitate the 2015 nuclear agreement, what Iran, the United States and Europe urgently need right now is a COVID deal. 

A COVID deal would help rebuild trust for future negotiations with Iran, as well as improve U.S. relations with the European Union, which have weakened in the Trump era. Stopping the pandemic in Iran is essential to protecting Iran’s neighbors, 16 countries constituting over 500 million people. Without vaccines, more Iranians will die, and coronavirus infections from Iran will spread to other countries in the region.

In Iran, healthcare workers and doctors are dying in hospitals overwhelmed with COVID patients. 

Legally, the shipment of medicines to Iran is not under sanctions today, but the Trump administration has made it impossible for Iran to process payments from its central bank, or receive loans from the International Monetary Fund to pay for them. These financial sanctions have deterred international banks and suppliers of medicine from participating in any financial transactions for fear of becoming subject to secondary U.S. sanctions imposed on their companies or banks.

By issuing broad licenses to medical and pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers of COVID vaccines, the U.S. can assure banks, aid organizations and insurance companies that they will not be punished for supporting humanitarian medical assistance to Iran.

Iran has “pre-purchased” 17 million doses of vaccines through Covax, the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, which the World Health Organization created to ensure a more equitable distribution of vaccines. But the sanctions prevent Iran’s central bank from processing the payment for these vaccines. This purchase covers less than 10% of the Iranian population. To fight the virus, Iran has requested an emergency loan from the IMF, which the Trump administration blocked. The U.S. should allow the loan to proceed.

There is precedent for setting aside enmity to address a dire crisis together. After the December 2003 earthquake in Bam, which killed more than 20,000 Iranians, the Bush administration — while making threatening noises about sending tanks to Tehran — sent medical aid to victims. Somehow, the two sides could put aside their distrust to send and accept much-needed help for the survivors.

Today, decades of isolation, recrimination and demonization prevent us from realizing the power of cultural connections that have linked Iran and America for generations. 

If the Biden administration works out a COVID deal that facilitates shipments of vaccines to the Iranian people, it will win over the hearts and minds of millions in that country, strengthening the deep but frayed bonds of friendship between ordinary Americans and Iranians.

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