Iran, like the United States, is fighting a so-far failing war against the novel coronavirus, which according to expert studies could kill millions in both countries if it is not contained. Yet neither the Trump administration nor the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has let this unprecedented emergency distract them from their war against each other. Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have repeatedly launched rockets against U.S. targets this month, even as tens of thousands of covid-19 cases swamped medical facilities inside Iran.
The United States has responded by bombing the militias' weapons storage sites and by continuing to escalate sanctions on the stricken Iranian economy; last week, several companies involved in marketing Iranian petrochemicals were targeted. This week, Khamenei and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo devoted themselves to overheated verbal broadsides: The Iranian ruler blamed U.S. sanctions for impeding the fight against the epidemic, which he hinted had been created by the United States, while Pompeo claimed Tehran was lying about the extent of infections and stealing money intended for medical supplies.
President Donald Trump has, at least, resisted pressure from Pompeo and other hard-liners to further escalate military action in Iraq. But instead of escalating sanctions, he ought to be offering Iran the chance to ease tensions through mutual humanitarian actions. The regime has already paroled one of the U.S. citizens it had been holding in its prisons. While seeking the release of the others, the administration should support Iran's request to the International Monetary Fund for emergency aid.
Editorial on 03/27/2020