Coronavirus

Iranian Health Minister Says U.S. Sanctions Have Not Hindered Coronavirus Response

Health minister: No shortage of medicine to fight coronavirus

Iranian workers set up a makeshift hospital inside the Iran Mall
Iranian workers set up a makeshift hospital inside the Iran Mall / Getty Images

Iran's health minister is disputing claims from top regime figures suggesting that American economic sanctions are preventing Iran from fighting the coronavirus.

"Although it is hard to fight Corona under sanctions, since the beginning [of the outbreak] we have not faced a shortage of special drugs needed to treat this disease," Saeed Namaki, the Islamic Republic's health minister, said, according to an independent translation of his Farsi language remarks provided to the Washington Free Beacon.

Namaki's remarks contradict claims by Iranian leaders that American sanctions have prevented Iran from importing medicine and other humanitarian goods. Iran and its American allies have pushed for full-scale sanctions relief since the coronavirus began to spread in Iran, which is among the nations hardest hit by the virus.

While U.S. sanctions remain in place, they have not targeted humanitarian goods, according to senior Trump administration officials. Western media outlets have uncritically repeated the Iranian regime's claims, but new data suggest Iran still has access to pharmaceuticals. The U.S. State Department has alleged that Iranian regime figures stole more than a billion dollars in humanitarian aid sent to Tehran last year, just before the virus erupted.

"Despite assertions that U.S. sanctions have worsened the coronavirus epidemic in Iran, the data do not indicate that Iran has had difficulty maintaining its imports of pharmaceuticals," the Foundation for Defense of Democracies concluded in a recent policy brief written by Saeed Ghasseminejad and David Adesnik.

"According to the official Eurostat database, total EU exports to Iran fell from €8.9 billion in 2018 to 4.5 billion [euros] in 2019, while pharmaceutical exports fell from 738 million to 698 million [euros]. Most U.S. sanctions went into effect in November 2018, six months after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal," according to the brief. "Thus, a year-on-year comparison of 2018 to 2019 provides a good, though imperfect, approximation of the sanctions' impact."

U.S. sanctions have never been applied to Iran's trade in food, medication, and other humanitarian goods.

"While Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif often insists that sanctions prevent Iran from importing medicine, the regime's own health officials have consistently denied that this is the case. Some have directly blamed corruption and mismanagement for the country's shortages," FDD wrote.