In a letter to Joe Biden, 23 Democratic representatives and two senators, welcome a review of sanctions and their impact on the pandemic that the president launched soon after taking office, according to the Guardian.
But the signatories also urge the new administration to take a broader look at sanctions as a foreign policy tool, which they say America had imposed as “a knee jerk reaction” for too long. The letter signals the issue is likely to be at the heart of the foreign policy debate within the party in the Biden era.
The new administration has inherited a “maximum pressure” regime imposed by Donald Trump on Iran, as well as blanket sanctions on Venezuela and Cuba. It has already suspended a terrorist designation issued in the last days of Trump administration on the Houthis in Yemen, because of its impact on humanitarian aid deliveries.
Thursday’s letter, authored by congresswoman Ilhan Omar, congressman Jesús García, and senator Elizabeth Warren, points to the unintended consequences of secondary sanctions imposed on third country governments and companies for dealing with targeted governments. Often, risk-averse financial institutions are deterred from facilitating any transactions, even in humanitarian goods formally allowed by the sanctions.
“Existing protocols and licenses have proved woefully insufficient to meet the enormity of the challenges shared by people around the world in the face of the pandemic,” the Democrats say in the letter. “Even when licenses and humanitarian exemptions are available, moreover, there is a persistent problem of overcompliance, particularly from the financial sector. This has led to catastrophic humanitarian consequences in various parts of the world.”
Under a national security directive issued by Biden on his first full day in office, the secretaries of state, commerce and the treasury, in consultation with the health and human services secretary and the administrator of the US Agency for International Development, are to review US and multilateral sanctions to assess whether they are obstructing global responses to the pandemic.
Thursday’s letter represents a push for the review to encompass a radical rethink of sanctions, away from their use as a fix-all tool.
“Far too often and for far too long, sanctions have been imposed as a knee-jerk reaction without a measured and considered assessment of their impacts. Sanctions are easy to put in place, but notoriously difficult to lift,” the signatories argue.
“This is why we are asking for this release to be comprehensive, to see if these policies can be adjusted to make sure that they’re not specifically harming the people in these countries who are trying to survive...in a public health pandemic that is bringing about a financial crisis,” Omar told the Guardian.
Chad Brown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the nature of the pandemic meant that international cooperation, even with rivals and adversaries, was all the more in the national interest.
“If the pandemic is raging anywhere, the emergence of variants means that nowhere is truly safe,” Brown said. “That even includes the countries the United States may find challenging for geopolitical reasons.”