By Eoin Higgins for Common Dreams

Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“We need to cancel all economic sanctions during this crisis.”

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to ravage Iran, U.S. lawmakers Tuesday called on President Donald Trump to immediately relax crushing sanctions which are making it harder for people in the Persian nation to obtain vital medicines, medical equipment, and protective gear for healthcare workers.

In a joint letter (pdf) spearheaded by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the 32 lawmakers demand economic relief to Iran, one of the hardest hit countries in the world by the disease with over 2,750 deaths. 

“Pandemics know no borders,” the letter reads. “Allowing this crisis to become more dire in Iran threatens significant harm not only to the people of Iran but also to people in the United States and around the world.

Prominent progressive lawmakers joining Ocasio-Cortez in signing the letter were Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

“It is cruel to enforce sanctions that devastate economies and hurt healthcare systems, especially during a global pandemic,” Just Foreign Policy executive director Erik Sperling said in a statement. “It’s morally wrong and counterproductive to pursue regime change by knowingly increasing death and suffering of innocent people.”

Releasing the stranglehold on goods getting into the country would allow Iran to get a better handle on the crisis, the lawmakers write in the letter, and open the door for economic and healthcare recovery.

“Sanctions relief that should be considered are those that encompass major sectors of the Iranian economy, including those impacting civilian industries, Iran’s banking sector and exports of oil, and should last for at least as long as health experts believe the crisis will continue,” the letter reads. 

The letter was welcomed by peace groups like Win Without War, whose advocacy director Erica Fein said in a statement Tuesday that “the global coronavirus crisis should be a wake-up call.”

“Human security is tied across borders,” Fein continued. “We can’t bomb, sanction, or otherwise strong-arm our way to safety. In the face of shared global problems, from the climate crisis to pandemics, we must rethink our approach to human security, and build a foreign policy that puts international solidarity and collaboration first.”

National Iranian-American Council policy director Ryan Costello echoed the call for a more forward thinking policy, warning that the consequences of allowing the disease to get worse could be dire. 

“The Iranian people will remember which nations came to their assistance in their hour of need, and which chose to maintain senseless sanctions to their detriment,” said Costello.

Omar, in a tweet, said she believed that the sanctions relief should be expanded to every nation under economic attack by the U.S. government for the duration of the pandemic.

“We need to cancel all economic sanctions during this crisis,” said Omar.