1 1 (April 13, 2020)

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               Researh Sevice






COVID-19 and U.S. Iran Policy



Updated April 13, 2020


Overview

The spread in Iran of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2) has raised questions
about the possible effects of U.S. policy on the capacity of Iran to cope with the outbreak. Since May
2018, when the Trump Administration withdrew the United States from the 2015 multilateral Iran nuclear
agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA), the Administration has reimposed all U.S.
sanctions that were in place prior to that agreement and added further sanctions. The U.S. sanctions target
virtually every economic sector in Iran, but at least technically exempt transactions involving
humanitarian items. Iranian officials argue that the U.S. sanctions-which constitute the core of a U.S.
maximum pressure campaign intended to alter Iran's objectionable behavior-are impeding Iran's
ability to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.


Scope of the Problem

Iran has been the epicenter of the COVID- 19 pandemic within the Middle East region, reporting a number
of COVID-19 infections and deaths from the infection (27,000 and 2,075, respectively, as of March 25)
many times higher than those of other regional states. Several senior members of key regime decision-
making bodies have died of the disease, and numerous officials, including about 10% of Iran's 290-seat
parliament, have tested positive for COVID- 19. Reflecting widespread skepticism of Iran's transparency
about the extent of the outbreak, Secretary of State Michael Pornpeo has said that Iran's regime has lied
about [the extent of] the Wuhan virus outbreak [in Iran] for weeks. Whereas unrest has broken out in
Iran in recent months over reduction of fuel subsidies and other government actions, to date the
coronavirus outbreak apparently has not sparked renewed domestic unrest.


U.S. Policy Dimension

Iranian leaders, as well as a wide variety of observers claim that the extensive U.S. sanctions on Iran are
impeding Iran's ability to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak. Since 2018, the Trump Administration has
articulated a policy ofimaximum pressure on Iran, based on imposition of economic sanctions on every
sector or Iran's economy. Sales to Iran of humanitarian items, including medicine and medical equipment,

                                                                Congressional Research Service
                                                                  https://crsreports.congress.gov
                                                                                      IN11279

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