News / Middle East

Medicine at Center of Debate as Iran Sanctions Tighten

Mohammad Kouhi, left, and Hassan Akbarzadeh, work, in a supermarket in Tehran, Iran, January 23, 2013.Mohammad Kouhi, left, and Hassan Akbarzadeh, work, in a supermarket in Tehran, Iran, January 23, 2013.
x
Mohammad Kouhi, left, and Hassan Akbarzadeh, work, in a supermarket in Tehran, Iran, January 23, 2013.
Mohammad Kouhi, left, and Hassan Akbarzadeh, work, in a supermarket in Tehran, Iran, January 23, 2013.
Earlier this month, the U.S. government announced tighter sanctions on Iran. In particular, the actions would further limit Iran’s access to oil revenues “by restricting Iran’s ability to use oil revenue held in foreign financial institutions as well as preventing repatriation of those funds to Iran.”

Western sanctions have severely limited the country’s ability to sell oil on the world market and decreased its access to the international banking system. The sanctions have been imposed because of Iran’s refusal to stop its uranium enrichment program. Iran claims the uranium is for nuclear power reactors, while the U.S. and its allies say Iran is striving to build nuclear weapons.

The U.S. government has repeatedly stated that sanctions are ‘targeted’ at Iran’s nuclear program and not the Iran’s people. Washington points to humanitarian exceptions from the sanctions for agricultural commodities, food, medicine or medical devices. As with any sanctions regime, there is an ongoing debate about how effective sanctions are and who they really hurt.

“We have no quarrel with the people of Iran,” David S. Cohen, the Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the U.S. Treasury Department, said in an interview with VOA. “The ultimate objective here is to try and slow down the development of Iran's nuclear program and to put pressure on those senior officials in Iran who are responsible for making policy judgments with respect to the nuclear program, not to make food and medicine scarce.”

But there have been numerous reports of shortages, particularly of medicine, and the reports have turned into a propaganda war between the two sides. Iranian government officials blame Western sanctions for the shortages. Western officials blame the Iranian government for mismanaging the situation and causing scarcity.

Iran’s health minister, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, was fired last December after she criticized the government for not providing enough foreign currency to import vital medicines, causing a shortage.

“The hard currency that they needed wasn't allocated to the health ministry,” said Cohen. “Instead, the hard currency is being allocated by the government to other purposes, whether it is supporting the Assad regime [in Syria], supporting terrorism or supporting the nuclear program.”

On the other hand in October, Fatemeh Hashemi, head of the Foundation for Special Diseases, wrote an open letter to United Nations chief Ban Ki moon, saying sanctions have put Iranian patients’ lives at risk, causing a shortage of vital medicine for special diseases such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.

While U.S. exports of medicines to Iran have decreased during the past year, U.S. exports of food, mainly grains, has increased under sanctions, something Cohen can’t explain.

“I've seen statistics that show that food imports into Iran increased last year by 22 percent,” said Cohen. “It's the same international trade mechanisms for food, for medicine, and medical devices. It's the same ships, the same financial transactions. So I can't say precisely why there may be more difficulty with medicine than food, other than I would again point out that much of the problem is the result of the choices that the government in Iran has made.”

In a recent report previewed on the Woodrow Wilson Center website, sanctions were found to be the root cause of medicine shortages in Iran, with the Iranian government’s mismanagement escalating the problem. The report said shortages of life-saving medical supplies have been "unintentional" but "irrefutable."

“I'm not responsible for image,” said Cohen.” I'm responsible to ensure that our sanctions are applied in the appropriate fashion.”

Cohen added that President Obama has offered Iran an opportunity to engage and “reclaim its position in the international community” if it addresses concerns about its nuclear program.

Correction: The Wilson Center report was published on the Wilson Center website. It is not an official Wilson Center report.

Here's the complete interview with underscretary Cohen:

You May Like

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: JKF from: Ottawa, canada
February 14, 2013 6:02 PM
My view is that potentially the UNSC should have all Iranian sales/export payments go through the UN, so that the UN can allocate the required sums to the humanitarian needs; and that which is left over, go back to Iran for some discretionary funding.

If Iran can spend billions on new centrifuges, they can spend billions in Syria, and offer a multi billion dollar loan to Egypt, just a couple of weeks ago, at the Cario summit, they are absolutely deliberately causing the critical shortages. Essentially propaganda on the backs of their own people, as usual.
Mr. F. Hashemi, may need to get access to the open media internet account, so that he can look at these issues: like tens of thousands on new centrifuges;like new weapons system announcemets every week,; like ICBM launches with funny monkeys; like the war in Syria, etc.. before he writes, reports that are not credible, given what one can see in the open press.

Mr. Hashemi needs to read, what Iran's reported recent military accomplishments are, each has a big price tag! BALANCE IN REPORTING, especially to the UN, is critical to sustain any credibility or when writing on behalf of patients to the UN? This article is also not very informative. Mr. Cohen also needs to read the info in the open press, on Iran's accomplishments.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs