By Simon Tisdall
Displaying the sort of unthinking bellicosity that has characterised his tenure as US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo chose last week – a time of unprecedented global turmoil – to impose yet more unilateral sanctions on Iran. This was akin to pouring petrol on a burning building, then waiting to see how big an explosion ensues.
The timing of the new measures was doubly inept. Iran’s freeing of thousands of political prisoners last week raised hopes of full pardons for jailed US citizens and the British-Iranian dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been temporarily released.
Those hopes have receded now. Meanwhile, Pompeo’s heedless intervention risked fuelling calls inside Iran to abandon not only the creaking 2015 nuclear deal but also the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) – the cornerstone since 1970 of international efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons.
Iran’s leadership is under pressure from conservative hardliners after the latter’s recent election successes. This latest manifestation of Washington’s unremitting hostility may help push them over the brink. Thanks mainly to Donald Trump and his sidekick, Tehran could soon move a crucial step closer to going nuclear – the very outcome the Americans most fear.
There is little reason to feel sympathy for Iran’s political and religious bosses and their incompetent, corrupt and abusive regime. The country’s present government has proved it is not fit to govern. But its long-suffering people are a different matter. They deserve better of both their leaders and the Trump administration.
Pompeo said the new measures, targeting individuals and businesses allegedly engaged in circumventing the US oil embargo, showed Washington’s determination to maintain its “maximum pressure” campaign, begun in 2018 after Trump torpedoed the nuclear deal.
Yet the move could hardly have been more provocative, or more cruel. Iranians have endured many months of intensifying hardship as US sanctions have shrunk the economy, destroyed jobs and depressed living standards. They have been badly hit by the coronavirus, which the health ministry has said is killing one person every 10 minutes.
Callous US disregard for Iran’s Covid-19 emergency – it is effectively blocking bilateral medical aid and a request for a $5bn loan from the International Monetary Fund – suggests that Washington is not interested in confidence-building measures. “The Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice,” Pompeo snarled.
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