ROME — Pope Francis called for relaxed international sanctions during his Easter message Sunday after receiving a request from officials in Iran asking him to intervene.
According to Mehr News Agency (MNA), a news service based in Tehran, a senior member of the Academy of Sciences of Iran, Ayatollah Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad, wrote to Pope Francis in mid-March appealing to him help end U.S. sanctions on Iran.
During his solemn Urbi et Orbi blessing Sunday, Pope Francis appeared to comply with the ayatollah’s request, calling on nations to lift sanctions in this difficult period of coronavirus lockdown.
“In light of the present circumstances, may international sanctions be relaxed, since these make it difficult for countries on which they have been imposed to provide adequate support to their citizens,” the pope said, before also suggesting a reduction of international debt.
On March 20, International Christian Concern (ICC) also reported that Ayatollah Damad had written a letter to the Vatican appealing for diplomatic assistance to reduce the effects of U.S. sanctions. ICC also criticized Iranian officials of mismanaging the coronavirus pandemic due to their “strict interpretation of Islam.”
In his letter to the pontiff, the ayatollah underscored the suffering of the Iranian people from the coronavirus outbreak, insisting that U.S. sanctions against the country “have increased their suffering and closed doors to solving many problems,” MNA reported.
The International Quran News Agency (IQNA), another Iran-based service, said that Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin had responded to the academy’s letter, saying that the Pope has expressed sympathy with the people of Iran for the outbreak and wishes a speedy recovery for all affected.
The Cardinal’s letter also stressed that people need to put aside differences and hatred and live with each other peacefully.
The Vatican reached out to the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, conveying Iran’s concerns over the sanctions and asking Washington to address the issue, Parolin reportedly said in his letter.
According to the Iranian news service, which is owned by the Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization, the U.S. “unilateral and illegal sanctions imposed under the guise of the maximum pressure campaign” jeopardize Iran’s ability to effectively fight the coronavirus.
Iran has reportedly become an “essential hub” in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, since Beijing considers Tehran “a vital transport and logistics hub.”
In 2017, China provided $1.5 billion in financing to upgrade Iran’s Tehran-Mashad trunk line as well as $1.8 billion to set up a high-speed rail connection linking Tehran, Qom, and Isfahan. In exchange, Iranian officials drastically reduced transit tariffs for Chinese goods, an arrangement similar to that made between China and Italy.
Last December, Iran’s Minister of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts, Ali-Asghar Mounesan, visited China and announced his country’s readiness for close cooperation in carrying out the One Belt, One Road initiative.
During his visit, the minister announced that Iran had lifted visa requirement for Chinese tourists wishing to visit Iran, citing the close ties of friendship between Tehran and Beijing.
After returning from China to Iran, Mr. Mounesan came down with COVID-19, along with Irani Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri and Reza Rahmani, minister of industry, mines and business. Mr. Rahmani had visited China last November to hold talks with Chinese officials.
Johns Hopkins University reported Saturday that Iran has had 58,226 confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which 4,474 have died.