Sen. Chris Murphy doubles down on calls to provide relief to Iran

sanctions relief

Photo: Paul Morigi

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) discussed his recent letter to the Trump administration, which called for the easing of sanctions on Iran for medical supplies and humanitarian relief, during a webinar hosted by J Street on Tuesday. 

“We have problems here in the United States with respect to medical equipment and PPE, and we don’t have global economic sanctions tightening our medical economy. Iran is simply unable right now to get what they need in order to meet the medical moment,” Murphy explained. “We [the 11 senators who signed the letter] believe that the U.S. first and foremost just has a moral obligation to make sure that our foreign policy doesn’t result in the knowing death of innocent people. And right now, our sanctions policy — because it is making it impossible for medical supplies to reach Iran — is in part resulting in the death of individuals in that country who could be saved if our policy was different.” 

Heartfelt gesture: Murphy said that sanctions relief is also “an opportunity to show the heart of America — to show the value of our nation, which is supposed to undergird our foreign policy” to the younger generation in Iran, “who are no fans of this regime.” He said it would also be an opportunity to “thaw relations between the U.S. and Iran.”  

Criticism of sanctions regime: Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, suggested that the maximum-pressure campaign on Iran has failed on all fronts. “Our sanctions policy has not worked. It had made the situation there worse,” he stated. “It has not convinced Iran to come to the table on concessions regarding their nuclear program. It has not convinced them to come to the table on their ballistic missile program and it has not made the region any safer.” 

Amendment: The Democratic lawmaker maintained that he wasn’t suggesting to waive all the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration or those of the Obama administration, but to create a “clear general license that would allow for humanitarian relief organizations to get those relief supplies into Iran without delay” and a “financing-mechanism program for Iran and Iranian medical providers to pay for those supplies.”

On the 2020 sidelines: On the call, Murphy declined to say whether his proposal is closer to the one proposed by Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) or to former Vice President Joe Biden’s suggested approach, saying that he hasn’t seen the Biden proposal in detail and has worked closely with Sanders on issues related to Iran. “What we are trying to do now is raise as much volume as we can to get this right,” he added. “I am sure Vice President Biden’s proposal is a good one. I know that what Bernie and others in the House are working on is important. So I would just lend your support to any of these efforts.”

Rebuttal: Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JI, “Trade data and statements by Iranian officials confirm that billions of dollars in humanitarian exports to Iran are getting through. The regime has hundreds of billions in off-the-books assets that it should be spending on economic stimulus and fighting the coronavirus but it chooses not to. If there are some reasonable tweaks to our sanctions laws, I am confident that the professionals at Treasury already are making them. But what Senator Murphy, who has been a long-time opponent of pressuring the regime, really wants is the lifting of the core financial and energy sanctions that would only enrich the regime and embolden its malign activities.“

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