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Murky messaging. Dismissive attitudes. Bureaucratic shortcomings. A tenuous relationship with the truth.

President Donald Trump is facing a bungled government response to the coronavirus threat — in Iran. And he has to decide what America should do about it.

In recent weeks, Iran has emerged as a new epicenter of the spreading virus, with the highest reported death rate of any country, in one of the world’s least-equipped regions to handle an epidemic. Experts say much of the blame falls squarely on the Iranian government, which has offered limited information and prompted broad skepticism of the accuracy of its data.

But viruses care little about national borders. And for the Trump administration, which has spent years trying to squeeze the Iranian government with an onerous suite of sanctions, a worsening outbreak in Iran could prompt difficult questions about how — and how much — to help a nation surrounded by American allies and troops.

The administration has already started taking tentative first steps. On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the U.S. had made a formal offer of assistance to the Iranian people via Switzerland, which serves as an intermediary between the two countries. It was unclear what form of assistance that would take, or whether Iran would accept it. The statement came a day after the Treasury Department formalized a trade channel via Switzerland that allows Swiss firms to send humanitarian supplies more readily to Iran, though a Treasury spokeswoman said it was not in specific response to the coronavirus.

But bigger decisions loom if the situation grows more dire and pressure grows for the U.S. to work more closely with Iran.

“Washington should be providing face masks, sanitizing gels, virus test kits and other products as necessary,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “U.S. government-funded broadcasters should be splicing in critical public health information about how to prevent and contain the spread of this fast-metastasizing virus.”

In China, where the coronavirus emerged and has hit hardest, Trump has maintained top-level relationships while managing a delicate balance of trade war brinkmanship and long-term maneuvering. At home, his administration is already mobilizing a government-wide effort to gird against a potential outbreak.

But in Iran, which the Trump administration has successfully isolated from much of the world since pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, the president has very limited options to engage.

to restrict travel for the recent surge of troops it sent to the region.” data-reactid=”27″>It’s been less than two months since the U.S. killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and the nations stood on the brink of outright war. The coronavirus has prompted the U.S. to restrict travel for the recent surge of troops it sent to the region.

“President Trump essentially has sanctioned America out of influence inside Iran,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

The impact of those sanctions also hovers over Iran. They have damaged Iran’s relatively strong health care infrastructure, causing some shortages and skyrocketing medical prices.

Though they include exemptions for humanitarian goods, many experts said European banks have been unwilling to finance even those transactions for fear of running afoul of sanctions.

“Companies and banks are very cautious about dealing with Iran even for humanitarian trade,” said Tara Sepehri Far, an Iran researcher at Human Rights Watch who authored a report last year on the impact of the U.S. maximum pressure campaign. “There are several cases of what should be legitimate trade that banks either refused to authorize or companies just ended their relationship with Iran.”

It’s not clear whether the sanctions are yet affecting Iran’s ability to respond to the coronavirus. But if the contagion starts to overwhelm the country’s system, experts say the sanctions could play a role in hampering preventive and treatment efforts.

in a letter to ensure U.S. sanctions weren’t hindering the delivery of humanitarian supplies.” data-reactid=”33″>Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Friday stepped up pressure, asking the Treasury and State departments in a letter to ensure U.S. sanctions weren’t hindering the delivery of humanitarian supplies.

Some groups are pressing the U.S. to waive certain restrictions to enable easier collaboration between researchers. Or it could take steps to reassure foreign companies explicitly that they won’t be penalized for providing humanitarian supplies to Iran to handle the coronavirus outbreak.

The U.S. is touting the new Swiss channel as one of the mechanisms that can facilitate humanitarian aid, though opinions vary on how effective or widely used it will be.

There aren’t signs that additional steps to encourage financing will follow. “We’ve been pretty clear,” a Treasury Department spokeswoman said. “We’ve expressed over and over again: We’re more than willing to work with companies and other countries to make sure the Iranian people are getting the tools they need.”

The sanctions might have their greatest impact on the coronavirus as a bogeyman. Iranian leaders can blame the U.S. — or, alternatively, paint the virus as a paper tiger much like they’ve tried to shrug off sanctions’ impact.

“Sanctions become a useful excuse for Iran’s own inefficiency,” said Mike Rubin, a resident scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

And regardless of what actions the U.S. takes, there’s widespread agreement that Iran has dropped the ball. Its leaders have inaccurately pooh-poohed the prospect of quarantines as an anachronism, possibly delayed telling the public about initial coronavirus cases, planned to export the country’s face masks to China and failed to be transparent with the international community.

Because Iranians’ trust in their government is low after a series of recent incidents, they’re less likely to follow its public health advice, warned Holly Dagres, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council.

The government’s approach was perhaps best symbolized by deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi, who downplayed the spread of the coronavirus earlier this week — and then tested positive for it by the next day.

And, of course, any country will face difficulty in grappling with an aggressive virus as medical experts are still racing to understand it and develop a vaccine.

“Iran up until now has refused to admit that it even has a problem,” said Amir Afkhami, a George Washington University associate professor and expert on public health in Iran. “The policy shortfalls that you’re seeing in Iran are responsible for the direction of the illness.”

https://news.yahoo.com/trump-coronavirus-risk-dangerous-spin-120006186.html