1. Update
  2. Middle East & Iran, Nuclear Weapons

US Maximum Pressure Policy: Punishing the Poor and Ailing in Iran

By Parissa Joukar, November 7, 2019


The Trump administration doubled down on its maximum pressure policy approach to Iran with new sanctions, this time targeting Iran’s construction sector, which—according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo— is under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The sanctions were announced on Oct. 31, three days after Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a 47-page report on a complex system of human suffering in Iran resulting from murky, misguided American policy. They found that U.S. sanctions on Iran have deterred Europeans from exporting essential goods, such as life-saving medicine, into Iran. These transactions are classified as humanitarian trade and do not violate the terms of any existing sanctions, but, for unclear reasons, have often led to blacklisting and hefty fines.

'Recently,' Leyla explained, 'the medication is so scarce that costs have multiplied and we can’t come up with the money in time.'

As mentioned in the HRW report, this ambiguity has caused a chain reaction of European pharmaceutical companies suspending sales to Iran. At a recent event hosted by the Atlantic Council, “The Humanitarian Impact of U.S. Sanctions on Iran,” panelist Tara Sepehri Far expressed deep disappointment in lawmakers for failing to address the plight of innocent Iranians.

“Two weeks ago, there was a hearing about the maximum pressure policy—there was no single question asked about the humanitarian impact [of sanctions],” she said. “There is an obligation for the US to consider [this impact].”

As a second-generation American with many relatives in Iran, I frequently hear about this impact. In the face of an economic crisis exacerbated by sanctions, my Iranian cousin, Leyla, has assembled a group of donors who contribute whatever they have to cover the cost of medical treatment for locals with life-threatening illnesses like cancer who also live in poverty.

“But recently,” Leyla explained, “the medication is so scarce that costs have multiplied and we can’t come up with the money in time.”

Many of the individuals she and her friends support are illiterate and do not even know the names of the medications they depend on. The local physician provided a list of key chemotherapy drugs that are in short supply: Doxorubicin, Eberelbin, mycophenolic acid, Cytarabine, Lomustine, and Fluorouracil.

While leaders of both nations haphazardly ratchet up tensions, Iran’s most vulnerable are left to die.

According to the doctor, these chemotherapy drugs are effective when consumed regularly, but they are either unavailable or unaffordable because of the Trump administration's sanctions.

Consequently, the poor and the ailing are left with two options: 1) not to receive treatment, or 2) use cheaper low-quality alternatives produced domestically or imported from India, China, and Turkey.

“These alternative drugs are not only ineffective, but they cause a series of terrible side effects that patients must endure until their death,” Leyla says.

Since withdrawing from the Iran Deal in 2018, President Trump and his foreign policy advisors have imposed and tightened sanctions to force the renegotiation of a deal with greater limits on Iran’s nuclear program. While leaders of both nations haphazardly ratchet up tensions, Iran’s most vulnerable are left to die.

Iran 

Diplomacy Works

Thanks to the U.S. pursuing diplomatic solutions, Iran no longer has enough fuel to build a nuclear bomb. Yet the kind of sustained diplomacy that led to this agreement often does not have political support in this country.

Parissa Joukar

  • Program Assistant, Middle East Policy

Parissa is the Program Assistant for Middle East Policy. She helps maintain the FCNL World Twitter account, offers communications support to allies across the country, and tracks legislative activity on Capitol Hill.