While the food, pharmaceutical and medical sectors are officially escaping sanctions against Iran, USA is arranging to block deliveries of medicines to Tehran. Their weapon? Endless bank and administrative harassment…
By Ian Hamel, in Geneva
SECO, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs in Berne, does not really adopt a neutral tone when discussing the payment mechanism for humanitarian deliveries to Iran. In a communiqué, it points out that since the reinstatement of trade sanctions by the United States, “Swiss exporters are facing increasing difficulties in delivering humanitarian goods to Iran”, even though they are not normally affected by the sanctions. SECO adds: “For legal reasons related to these sanctions, hardly any financial institutions were willing to make payments in connection with Iran. The few remaining payment channels were expensive, complex and unreliable.”
Already, in May 2019, the American think tank Atlantic Council, quoted by Mediapart, noted that the American Treasury was “prosecuting companies that sell small quantities of medicines to Iran, with the result that this has a deterrent effect on other companies doing business with Tehran”. In fact, the United States has been more interested in hindering banks and financial institutions that conduct the transactions than in hindering drug manufacturers. It’s more vicious, but just as effective.
The reason why Switzerland is entering the fray is that since the storming of the US embassy in Tehran and the hostage-taking of the staff, in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution, the Swiss Confederation is representing US interests in Iran, and vice versa. The small neutral country serves as an intermediary, and thus as a messenger, between the two enemy countries. It also plays the same role between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Moreover, the Confederation, a leading power in both finance and the pharmaceutical industry, would like to play a role in the delivery of medicines to Iran, which has currently the greatest need of them because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
It has also set up a payment mechanism for the delivery of humanitarian goods to Tehran, called the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), which was able to deliver 2.3 million euros worth of cancer drugs and organ transplant supplies at the beginning of the year. These medicines are produced by the Swiss multinational Novartis. Financial transactions were carried out by the BCP Bank (Banque commerciale et de Placements) in Geneva. However, this is only a tiny drop in the ocean of the enormous needs of a country of 80 million people, which has become one of the world’s main centres of the epidemic.
Admittedly, the United States is not responsible for the catastrophic management of this crisis by the Iranian authorities. One must remember the Iranian deputy Minister of Health who stated that “quarantine belonged to the Stone Age”, before acknowledging the next day that he himself was contaminated! But nevertheless aggravating the epidemic by blocking the delivery of medicines means making the Iranian people pay unjustly – and with often fatal consequences – for the political behavior of its leaders.