Democrats Urge Outgoing Trump to Be Flexible on Sanctions

Lawmakers are redoubling efforts to ensure all countries can get essential medical equipment during the pandemic despite ramped-up U.S. sanctions.

By , a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
The American flag flies at the U.S. Capitol
The American flag flies at the U.S. Capitol
The American flag flies at the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 6. Al Drago/Getty Images

Democrats on Capitol Hill are pushing back on the Trump administration’s plan to unveil stepped-up sanctions against Iran and other U.S. rivals, urging the outgoing president to show leniency and allow coronavirus aid to be sent. 

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week, Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with 73 other House and Senate Democrats, called on the Trump administration to issue a worldwide temporary general license that would cover testing kits, respirators, and personal protective equipment needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The pandemic has laid bare the ways in which our broad application of sanctions is undermining public health systems, imposing sweeping economic penalties that restrict commerce in the material and equipment necessary to respond to the coronavirus and harming ordinary people,” the lawmakers wrote. “Blocking or slowing the flow of medical resources neither enables an effective outbreak response around the world, nor does it serve our national security interests.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill are pushing back on the Trump administration’s plan to unveil stepped-up sanctions against Iran and other U.S. rivals, urging the outgoing president to show leniency and allow coronavirus aid to be sent. 

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week, Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with 73 other House and Senate Democrats, called on the Trump administration to issue a worldwide temporary general license that would cover testing kits, respirators, and personal protective equipment needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The pandemic has laid bare the ways in which our broad application of sanctions is undermining public health systems, imposing sweeping economic penalties that restrict commerce in the material and equipment necessary to respond to the coronavirus and harming ordinary people,” the lawmakers wrote. “Blocking or slowing the flow of medical resources neither enables an effective outbreak response around the world, nor does it serve our national security interests.”

The incoming Biden administration would likely be able to quickly write exemptions to ease the flow of U.S. coronavirus assistance around the world, but the next few months are critical. The pandemic is raging globally, and the Trump administration is seeking to use its final weeks in office to box in the next administration when it comes to U.S. financial warfare.

In coordination with Israel, the administration has planned a flurry of new Iran sanctions and several other moves, such as the pending terrorist designation of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, a move that aid groups fear could impede the flow of goods to fight the virus in the middle of one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes. 

President-elect Joe Biden has called on Trump to create licenses to allow goods to flow from pharmaceutical and medical device companies into Iran, and to create dedicated channels for banks and service firms to allow Iranians access to life-saving medical treatment. Similar licenses, issued by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, have been previously used by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations to provide aid to Iran during devastating earthquakes over the past two decades.

“It is bad enough that the Trump administration abandoned the Iran nuclear deal in favor of a ‘maximum pressure’ strategy that has badly backfired, encouraging Iran to become even more aggressive and restart its nuclear program,” Biden wrote in a Medium post in April. “It makes no sense, in a global health crisis, to compound that failure with cruelty by inhibiting access to needed humanitarian assistance.”

On Monday, Biden called for the immediate passage of the HEROES Act, a coronavirus stimulus package approved by the House earlier this year that includes $10 billion in foreign coronavirus assistance. García, the Democratic lawmaker, has also supported the use of International Monetary Fund special drawing rights to give financial relief to nations desperate to pay for much-needed medical imports.

Jack Detsch is a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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