Reacting to coronavirus, Europeans launch long-awaited INSTEX mechanism with Iran


France, Germany and Britain have made the first use of a bartering mechanism set up to circumvent U.S. sanctions against Iran, so they could send medical supplies to the crisis-hit country, the German Foreign Office said on Tuesday.

The delivery is a breakthrough in long-running European attempts to activate the Instex mechanism, aimed at enabling legitimate trade with Iran, despite the U.S. sanctions.

The supplies have arrived in Iran, the German Foreign Office confirmed, adding that Instex was working on further transactions with its Iranian counterpart organisation, STFI.

Iran is home to one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks globally, with nearly 45,000 cases of infection and around 2,900 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Iranian Health Ministry.

President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that the country's state of emergency - which has closed schools, shuttered stores and restricted movement - could be extended beyond its current April 8 expiry date.

He described the pandemic as the third crisis to hit Iran in the last four decades. The first was the eight-year war against neighbouring Iraq (1980-88) and the second was the reimposition of US sanctions against the country since 2018.

The United States announced its withdrawal from the international nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018 and revived crippling economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

The remaining parties have vowed to uphold the deal, which is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons in return for widespread sanctions relief.

Trading restrictions reimposed by Washington have prevented Tehran from reaping significant economic benefits - and most recently have led to concerns that Iran is unable to get the supplies it needs to tackle its health crisis.

In January, Iran announced that its nuclear programme would no longer be bound by any restrictions.

In response, Britain, France and Germany triggered the dispute settlement procedures foreseen under the 2015 pact, which could ultimately lead to the revival of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.

However, the three European countries have stressed that they are trying to salvage the deal together with Russia and China - the five countries that are left to uphold the agreement following Washington's exit.

According to Tehran, U.S. sanctions are making medical treatment for Covid-19 patients more difficult as Iran is cut out of the global banking system, making transactions to buy medicine and gear from abroad impossible.

Rouhani and his crisis team have expressed confidence that they can bring the outbreak under control by 8 April, but experts have cast doubt about the timetable.    (dpa)

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