Biden calls for Iran sanctions relief during coronavirus pandemic

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Former Vice President Joe Biden is calling on the Trump administration to take “immediate steps” to ease U.S. sanctions on Iran, one of the nations hardest hit by the global coronavirus pandemic.

But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has disputed whether sanctions are hampering humanitarian efforts in Iran.

Biden – the all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee – said in a statement on Thursday that “in times of global crisis, America should lead. We should be the first to offer help to people who are hurting or in danger. That’s who we are. That’s who we’ve always been.”

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Biden noted that Iran, an adversary of the United States for four decades, “has failed to respond effectively to this crisis, including lying and concealing the truth from its own people, and it continues to act provocatively in the region.”

But he also stressed that “Iran is struggling to contain one of the deadliest COVID-19 outbreaks in the world” and that the “Iranian people are hurting desperately.”

Sanctions were reimposed on Tehran by Washington after Trump pulled the U.S. out of a major agreement between the U.S., the members of the United Nations Security Council and Iran to limit that country’s nuclear activities in exchange for reducing longtime sanctions on Iran. The nuclear treaty with Tehran was one of the major international achievements struck during the second term of the Obama-Biden administration.

Biden’s humanitarian push was tinged with campaign implications, as he criticized the GOP incumbent in the White House for pulling the U.S. out of the Iranian nuclear deal.

The former vice president said that it’s “bad enough that the Trump administration abandoned the Iran nuclear deal in favor of a 'maximum pressure' strategy that has badly backfired, encouraging Iran to become even more aggressive and restart its nuclear program.”

Biden said that “it makes no sense, in a global health crisis, to compound that failure with cruelty by inhibiting access to needed humanitarian assistance. Whatever our profound differences with the Iranian government, we should support the Iranian people.”

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While the Trump administration’s offered aid to Iran, Biden argued such a move would not be enough if not accompanied by an easing of the sanctions.

Biden specifically called for issuing “broad licenses” to pharmaceutical and medical device companies; making it easier for international banks, transportation firms and insurers to provide medical treatment and issuing new sanctions guidance to those groups and international aid organizations regarding how they can combat the coronavirus outbreak in Iran.

Pompeo, asked earlier this week about the possibility of lifting U.S. sanctions in a humanitarian effort, said: “We evaluate all of our policies constantly. So the answer is would we ever rethink it – of course, we’re constantly trying to make sure we have our policies right. When it comes to humanitarian assistance, medical devices, equipment, pharmaceuticals, things that people need in these difficult times, those are not sanctioned anywhere at any time that I’m aware of.”

Fox News' Rich Edson contributed to this report.