The spread in Iran of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2) has raised questions about the possible effects of U.S. policy on the capacity of Iran to cope with the outbreak. Since May 2018, when the Trump Administration withdrew the United States from the 2015 multilateral Iran nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA), the Administration has reimposed all U.S. sanctions that were in place prior to that agreement and added further sanctions. The U.S. sanctions target virtually every economic sector in Iran, but at least technically exempt transactions involving humanitarian items. Iranian officials argue that the U.S. sanctions – which constitute the core of a U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign intended to alter Iran’s objectionable behavior – are impeding Iran’s ability to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
Iran has been the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic within the Middle East region, reporting a number of COVID-19 infections and deaths from the infection (27,000 and 2,075, respectively, as of March 25) many times higher than those of other regional states. Several senior members of key regime decisionmaking bodies have died of the disease, and numerous officials, including about 10% of Iran’s 290-seat parliament, have tested positive for COVID-19. Reflecting widespread skepticism of Iran’s transparency about the extent of the outbreak, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has said that Iran’s regime has “lied about [the extent of] the Wuhan virus outbreak [in Iran] for weeks.” Whereas unrest has broken out in Iran in recent months over reduction of fuel subsidies and other government actions, to date the coronavirus outbreak apparently has not sparked renewed domestic unrest. Iran has also become more isolated in the region as several of its neighbors have banned travel to and from Iran.
Source: COVID-19 and U.S. Iran Policy