A global group of churches is asking the US to ease sanctions on countries deemed national security threats on Washington, as part of efforts to tame the Covid-19 scourge.
In an open letter to US President Donald Trump, the World Council of Churches (WCC), Act Alliance (the global Christian humanitarian organisation) and the National Council of Churches in the US (NCCUSA) say the pandemic should force leaders into thinking anew about national security.
“In this unprecedented situation, we have a special opportunity and responsibility for deep reflection, and for renewal and seeking new beginnings,” they wrote in a letter dated April 9, but publicised last week.
The group, borrowing from the appeal by the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, says efforts to fight the pandemic can be stronger if all countries are allowed free interaction and cooperation.
“In order to strengthen efforts against the pandemic, WCC, ACT Alliance and NCCCUSA jointly appeal to you to lift the crippling sanctions against Iran,” they said referring to financial sanctions imposed on Tehran.
The US government re-imposed sanctions on Iran last year after President Trump argued it was violating conditions not to prepare nuclear weapons, and that it was supporting proxy terror groups in the region.
Tehran had reached a deal with major Western Countries to gradually reduce nuclear building material, in exchange for a return to the global financial and business markets.
The new sanctions now mean firms cannot trade freely with the country without facing penalties from the US.
Those sanctions exempt humanitarian and food supplies but difficulties in meeting payments have seen Tehran struggle to purchase key equipment from outside.
The church groups say those restrictions “impact Iran’s ability to import medical supplies and equipment” and want the US to lift them so the International Monetary Fund can “grant Iran’s request for an emergency loan to assist it in its response to this crisis”.
Iran had recorded 96,448 cases of Covid-19 by Saturday evening, 6,156 being the number of deaths and 77,350 that of recoveries, according to official records. It is one of the most affected countries in the Middle East.
Based in Switzerland, the WCC includes more than 390 churches across the world, excluding the Catholic Church, which, however, has observers at the council’s meetings.
The group made the same appeal to other countries whose leaders or government departments have been sanctioned, including Cuba (1,537 cases), Venezuela (335 cases) and Syria (44 cases).
The group probably has influence on politicians through its local branches but critics have accused it of looking the other way when governments oppressed their citizens especially in eastern European countries.
The council has also been accused, especially during the Cold War era, of being infiltrated by Soviet intelligence agents.
The novel coronavirus disease may have killed more Americans than Iranians, going by official figures, but the US is also preparing for elections later this year.
“Now is not the moment for pursuing grievances belonging to the politics of the world before Covid-19. In our new reality, any notion of national security is contingent on an effective response to the virus globally,” the churches said.