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

Multimedia US Defense Secretary: Iraqi Forces Lack 'Will to Fight'

Ash Carter criticizes Iraq's reaction to Islamic State; National Security Advisor Susan Rice echoed Carter's concerns in an interview on CBS More

Boko Haram Surrounds Havens With Land Mines

Chad and Cameroon say huge numbers of land mines planted by Boko Haram fighters along Cameroon's border with Nigeria are a danger to people, livestock and soldiers More

Women Peace Activists Cross Korean DMZ

Governments of Koreas give international delegation of women peace activists permission to pass through heavily fortified border, but some critics say symbolic crossing only benefits Pyongyang 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs