How do you do have a revolution when you’re sick with COVID-19? “The likelihood of massive protests [now] seems slim given government directives to stay home and rational fears that mass gatherings will only spread the virus,” writes Barbara Slavin, director of the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative. Sanctions will not force Iran to “behave like a normal nation” in the best of times, and they absolutely will not get Washington the changes it wants during a pandemic.
Sanctions relief for Iran, at least for a few months, is vital for Iran’s health — and ours: Iran’s infections will contribute to COVID-19’s spread elsewhere, and Tehran may even be under-reporting its infection and/or death rate. Hawks can rest assured their fears will not be realized in this small mercy; experts say Iran is several years away from being able to make a nuclear weapon if it had that intent. Moreover, Iran isn’t going to build a nuke during the pandemic, and even if it somehow did, the strength of the U.S. military — both conventional and nuclear — is more than adequate to indefinitely deter its use.
In short, there is simply no case that an Iranian nuclear weapon should be our primary concern in U.S.-Iran relations in this moment. The problem at hand is the novel coronavirus, and U.S. sanctions are aiding its killing spree in Iran. We can return to debating the best Iran policy after the pandemic is over. Right now, immediate sanctions relief is the only choice.