Monday, December 10, 2012

Is Europe starving Iran of vital medicines?

Adolescents cannot be blamed for the policies of autocrats. So why did 15-year-old Manouchehr Esmaili-Liousi have to die because the West wants to punish Iran's leaders?

Manouchehr lost his life when no medicine could be found to treat haemophilia. Iran used to import drugs for this disease but has been unable to recently because it is subject to a trade embargo.

This young boy may be the first victim of sanctions imposed on Iran by America and the European Union. He is unlikely to be the last. In November, The New York Times - not a journal renowned for decrying US imperialism - reported that Herceptin, a cancer medicine, had "disappeared" from Tehran's hospitals and pharmacies. Theoretically, humanitarian supplies are not covered by the sanctions. In practice, the ban on financial transactions with Iran is so comprehensive that it has affected supplies of essential drugs.

The death of Manouchehr serves as a depressing reminder of what happened in neighbouring Iraq. Denied equipment, medicine and even blood, Iraqi doctors struggled and often failed to provide the most rudimentary of care to their patients. UNICEF estimated that 600,000 children died over a decade as a result of sanctions.

According to the official narrative, everything was Saddam Hussein's fault. Saddam was blamed for the sanctions against his country because he wouldn't allow scrutiny of the nuclear and chemical bombs he was suspected to have been developing. Eventually, America invaded Iran based on a pack of lies. Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. And he had nothing to do with the atrocities committed on 11 September 2001.


Iran has replaced Iraq as the bogeyman we are supposed to fear most. In October this year, the EU's foreign ministers agreed to extend the scope of their sanctions on Iran, citing "deepening concerns" over the country's nuclear programme. The sanctions were "not aimed at the Iranian people," we were told.

If that assurance was genuine (and I don't believe it was), then our governments must immediately lift the embargo. In 2004, EU officials drew up guidelines for the use of sanctions as a tool "to maintain and restore international peace and security". These guidelines state that sanctions should be carefully targeted so that any "adverse humanitarian effects or unintended consequences" can be avoided "to the maximum extent possible".

The EU's sanctions against Iran run counter to those principles. Rather than being focused on the Tehran authorities, they prohibit all dealings between European and Iranian banks, except under "strict conditions". This amounts to economic warfare.

Why has Iran been singled out in this way? The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently reported that Iran was not providing it with the "necessary cooperation" to determine whether or not the country's nuclear programme has "military dimensions". That is worrying. But it is hardly poses a greater threat to world peace than what Australia has done this year. Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister, has clinched a deal with India to supply it with uranium. Whereas Iran has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, India and its enemy-next-door Pakistan have refused to.

An obstacle called Israel

Did the EU introduce sanctions against Australia for giving the key raw material required for nuclear weapons to India? Did it denounce the Canberra elite for helping to exacerbate tensions in South Asia? I've checked all of the statements that the main EU institutions issued about Australia over the past twelve months. Not one of them was critical of Gillard's reckless behaviour.

There is much that the EU could do about nuclear proliferation at home. The NPT requires signatories that have nuclear weapons to get rid of them. Britain and France have ratified the treaty but, the last time I looked, both of them still had nuclear weapons. With the Labour Party still in power, Britain's House of Commons voted in 2007 to renew its Trident nuclear submarine programme. David Cameron has indicated that he remains committed to that objective and that a decision will be made on the matter in 2016. It follows that Cameron is way more dangerous than Mahmoud Ahmadenijad. Yet I haven't seen any EU countries threatening Britain with sanctions over its enduring love affairs with nukes.

If the Union was serious and consistent about tackling the radioactive menace, it would be overseeing disarmament within its own borders. That would put it in a strong moral position to advocate the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. There is one major obstacle to giving the Middle East this status. It is Israel, another NPT rejectionist. Declassified documents show that the US has known that Israel possessed nuclear weapons since at least 1975. In 1999, the US Defence Intelligence Agency estimated that Israel possessed between 60 and 80 nuclear weapons. Others believe it has more. Yet William Hague, the British foreign secretary, has stated in recent days that there is no appetite among the Union's governments to penalise Israel. He was speaking about Israel's ongoing colonisation of the West Bank. The same double standards apply to nuclear weapons.

The most plausible explanation for why Iran is being harried is that it refuses to act as the West's doormat. In 1953, Mohammad Mossadegh's government was overthrown as it had the audacity to suggest that Iran's oil resources didn't belong to Western firms. Europe and the US are hoping for another regime change today. To bring it about, they are robbing pills from cancer wards.

•First published by New Europe, 9-16 December 2012.

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