When the US administration offered to help Iran with relief and rescue in the wake of the double quake in northwest Iran that claimed over 300 lives and caused widespread destruction, and even promised to work around the sanctions to do so, Iran declined the offer saying it did not believe the US gesture was in good faith and that the country was capable of dealing with its own affairs.
The Iranian posturing, however, was completely detached from the ground reality, which had the relief and rescue efforts struggling to cope with the situation. The crippling sanctions had left hospitals without adequate supplies of even basic medicines and the relief agencies found themselves unequal to the task as relief centres overflowed with the affected people.
Rescue and relief operations were so shoddy that the people were reportedly questioning the sincerity of the authorities in handling the situation. Media reports said that an insensitive state television was mostly airing the Olympics games events while a major part of the country was reeling under the devastation wreaked by the quake, prompting the affected people to wonder how much their government cared for them.
Obviously, in its response to the US offer, the government had put its own prestige ahead of the needs of the affected people, who would have been more keen on timely relief rather than be upset with its colour or source of origin. There was clearly a divide between interests of the two sides.
The same fallacy can also been seen in the US act of imposing sanctions on Iran. Even while agreeing with the declared American intention of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb in the larger interest of international peace and wellbeing of mankind, a distinction has to be made between the consequences of the sanctions on the Iranian government and its impact on the Iranian people.
While the sanctions have indeed made it difficult for Teheran and its leaders to press ahead with their agenda, the worst victims of the sanctions policy are the ordinary people, who find life in the embargo regime so stressful that there is hardly an area not affected. The economy has hit an all-time low; people have lost much of their earning capacity and the currency value has plummeted. Cut off from the international banking network, and with no official channel existing for financial transactions, businesses with overseas dealings find themselves at a dead end, with no outlet for their products and services.
The sanctions have also hit countries that do business with Iran’s state companies as well as businesses owned by Iranians outside the country. The UAE’s trade with Iran, which is the country’s fourth largest trading partner, with annual turnover of nearly Dh40 billion, is likely to be seriously affected as the embargo has cut off the official trade channels between the two countries. Dubai has been particularly affected as the country across the Gulf has traditionally been the second largest trading partner of the emirate. The IMF has even estimated its impact on the UAE’s GDP this year.
Countries such as India have also been hit hard by the sanctions as Iran provided New Delhi with one of the cheapest options for energy imports. Although coming under increasing pressure from the US to reduce oil imports from Iran, India has put in place alternative payment mechanisms to circumvent the dollar trade embargo, under which 45 percent of the payments are made in rupees, which Iran parks in a local bank and uses to settle payments to Indian exporters.
One cannot overlook the fact that the international community the US policy seeks to protect through its various initiatives, including the sanctions, is also inclusive of the Iranian people. Safeguarding the rights of these people is as important as safeguarding the rights of the rest of the international community. In its single-minded plan to persecute the Iranian leadership, the US policy strikes at the very root of the principles that it has vehemently sought to defend.
The most crucial point in any debate on this issue is how far the Iranian people are responsible for the acts of their government, given the nature of the regimes that have been ruling the country. Even in democratic societies, where people are responsible for bringing their choice of government to power, the equation between the ruling and the ruled merits careful consideration and the complicity of each to the other side’s actions is a complex issue.
For regimes like Iran, holding the people responsible for the acts of the government, and making them suffer the consequences, is nothing short of a violation of their fundamental rights, which the comity of nations, including the US, is committed to uphold and protect.
The writer is a UAE-based journalist.