In a break from two years of its maximum pressure campaign, the United States offered Iran humanitarian aid to help with the crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak. “This offer of support to the Iranian people, which has been formally conveyed to Iran through the Government of Switzerland, underscores our ongoing commitment to address health crises and prevent the spread of infectious diseases,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on February 28. He added that medicine donations are exempt from U.S. sanctions. Switzerland has historically been an intermediary between the United States and Iran. In the absence of formal diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States, the Swiss represent U.S. interests in Tehran.
On February 27, the U.S. Treasury granted a license allowing foreign companies to conduct certain humanitarian transactions with Iran's central bank, which was sanctioned by the United States in 2019. “The Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement will help ensure that humanitarian goods continue to reach the Iranian people without diversion by the regime,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a statement. Special Representative for Iran Hook told VOA Persian that the United States was increasing efforts to deliver aid and that two U.S. companies were ready to sell medicine to Iran.
In a televised address, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected U.S. aid to help combat the coronavirus outbreak. “You might give us a medicine that would spread the disease even more or make it last longer,” he said on March 22. Khamenei also cited a baseless conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was developed in the United States to target Iranians based on their genetic makeup.
On April 6, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi declared that Iran would never accept humanitarian aid from the United States. “Iran has never asked and will not ask America to help Tehran in its fight against the outbreak ... But America should lift all its illegal unilateral sanctions on Iran," Mousavi said.
President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other officials instead called for the lifting of U.S. sanctions. In mid-March, Zarif charged the United States with “war crimes” and “economic terrorism” as U.S. sanctions “literally kill innocents” because of Iran’s ability to acquire medical supplies during the COVID19 crisis.“It was the best historic opportunity for Americans to return from their wrong path and once again tell their nation that they are not against the Iranian people,” Rouhani said on April 1. “They have always acted against the Iranian nation, but today their animosity towards the Iranian nation is more obvious.”
Several other countries have also offered Iran humanitarian aid to help combat the virus.
- China: On February 28, China sent a team of health specialists and medical supplies to Iran. A Chinese Red Cross delegation reportedly brought 50,000 test kits and 13 respiratory machines. On March 30, Iranian state media reported that China delivers around 40 tons of medical supplies daily on Mahan Airlines flights.
- Germany, France and Britain: On March 2, France, Germany and Britain pledged $5.6 million in financial aid to help the Iranian government fight the coronavirus. The so-called E3 countries also announced a delivery of medical equipment through the World Health Organization and other U.N. agencies. On March 30, the countries exported medical supplies to Iran using an INSTEX financial transaction for the first time. The three European powers launched the mechanism in January 2019 to ensure that Iran receives economic benefits under the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
- United Arab Emirates: On March 2, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) facilitated a shipment of 7.5 tons of medical supplies from the World Health Organization using a UAE military transport plane. On March 16, the UAE shipped 32 tons of medical equipment, including thousands of pairs of gloves, surgical masks and protective gear.
- Azerbaijan: On March 7, Azerbaijan allocated $5 million in humanitarian aid to Iran.
- Japan: On March 13, Japan announced that it would send $22.6 million in medical assistance to Iran.
- Uzbekistan: On March 16, Uzbekistan sent a plane of sanitary and medical items to Iran, according to Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
- Qatar: On March 16, Qatar dispatched six tons of medical equipment and supplies to Iran.
- Kuwait: On March 17, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah offered $10 million in humanitarian aid during a phone conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
- Turkey: On March 17, Turkey provided a shipment of the following items to Iran: 1,000 test kits, 4,000 face masks, 4,750 scrubs, 2,400 goggles, 78,000 three-layer masks, 20,000 medical aprons.
Yet the Trump administration also had tough language on Iran’s slow response to the disease. U.S. officials accused Iran of covering up the true number coronavirus cases. “The United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country,” Pompeo told reporters on February 25. “All nations, including Iran, should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations." The first cases in Iran were reported on February 19. By March 19, it reported 18,407 cases and 1,284 deaths.
On March 2, the United States announced that a New York City woman, who had recently visited Iran, tested positive for the coronavirus. It was New York City's first reported case. "There is no reason for undue anxiety — the general risk remains low in New York. We are diligently managing this situation and will continue to provide information as it becomes available," said Governor Andrew Cuomo.
On March 10, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Iran to release American detainees and cited the danger of COVID-19, which had spread to at least three Iranian prisons. "Any nation considering whether to provide Iran with humanitarian assistance because of COVID-19 should seek a reciprocal humanitarian gesture by the regime: release all wrongly detained dual and foreign national citizens," he said. The following are statements by U.S. officials on Iran’s coronavirus outbreak.
On March 15, the U.S. State Department Persian-language account tweeted a link to an anonymous survey via Telegram, an encrypted social media app, to encourage Iranians to submit information about the country's coronavirus outbreak. By March 18, the United States had received about 7,000 responses to the 37-question survey. An unnamed State Department official said that the tips were mainly about "particular facilities that people have seen coronavirus victims, particular regions, particular misstatements by the officials." The State Department intended to use data to determine if Iran was under-reporting the number of cases. "The picture painted is one of intimidation and mass falsifications of statistics," the State Department official said. "We are getting the unfiltered facts." On March 23, the State Department published a "disinformation fact-sheet" outlining Iran's lack of transparency on the COVID-19 outbreak. The following are statements by U.S. officials and from the State Department.
President Donald Trump
Feb. 29, 2020, in remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference
"If we can help the Iranians with this problem, we are certainly willing to do so... All they have to do is ask. We will have great professionals over there."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
Mar. 17, 2020, in a press conference
"I also want to call attention to the Iranian regime’s misinformation campaign surrounding the origination of the Wuhan virus. Instead of focusing on the needs of the Iranian people and accepting genuine offers of support, senior Iranians lied about the Wuhan virus outbreak for weeks.
The Iranian leadership is trying to avoid responsibility for their grossly incompetent and deadly governance. Sadly, the Iranian people have been suffering these kinds of lies for 41 years. They know the truth: The Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice.
We’re trying to help. We continue to offer assistance to Iran in numerous ways and we will continue to do so."
As @khamenei_ir knows, the best biological defense would’ve been to tell the Iranian people the truth about the Wuhan virus when it spread to #Iran from China. Instead, he kept Mahan Air flights coming and going to the epicenter in China, and jailed those who spoke out. pic.twitter.com/nL1FUY4T4b— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) March 13, 2020
Mar. 10, 2020 in a statement
“Any nation considering whether to provide Iran with humanitarian assistance because of COVID-19 should seek a reciprocal humanitarian gesture by the regime: release all wrongly detained dual and foreign national citizens. This request is well within the regime’s power to grant.”
Mar. 5, 2020, in a press briefing
“We’ve also extended offers to help the Islamic Republic of Iran, and we hope that the Government of Iran will heed our offers of humanitarian assistance and medical supplies.”
“The IAEA’s latest reports are all the more troubling, because Iran continues to lie about its past nuclear weapons program, just as it has lied about downing a civilian airliner and its suppression of the extent of its coronavirus outbreak.”
Feb. 28, 2020, in a statement:
“The United States stands with the people of Iran during the public health crisis caused by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The U.S. Government is prepared to assist the Iranian people in their response efforts. This offer of support to the Iranian people, which has been formally conveyed to Iran through the Government of Switzerland, underscores our ongoing commitment to address health crises and prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
The United States calls on Iran to cooperate fully and transparently with international “aid and health organizations. We will continue to work closely with countries in the region to help address unmet needs in response to the virus.
Persons interested in providing support to the Iranian people should note that certain donations to Iran intended to relieve human suffering, including the donation of medicine, are exempt from U.S. sanctions. In addition, the United States maintains broad exceptions and authorizations to its sanctions for the commercial export of food, medicine, medical devices, and agricultural products to Iran. In support of those “exceptions and authorizations, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Government of Switzerland recently announced the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA).”
Feb. 25, 2020, in a press briefing:
“Similarly, the United States is deeply concerned by information indicating the Iranian regime may have suppressed vital details about the outbreak in that country. As of yesterday afternoon, Iran was second only to China in coronavirus deaths. All nations, including Iran, should tell the truth about the coronavirus and cooperate with international aid organizations.”
Iran: COVID-19 DISINFORMATION FACT-SHEET
• Iran’s lack of transparency about its coronavirus outbreak has resulted in a catastrophic public health risk to the Iranian people, as well as to Iran’s neighbors.
• Instead of halting flights to China when the risk of contagion was clear, the regime threatened and imprisoned dozens of Iranians who told the truth about the outbreak. The regime encouraged large public gatherings to try to bolster its legitimacy, with no regard for the health risk to Iranian citizens.
• The regime is hiding a significant amount of information about the coronavirus outbreak. It is likely far worse that the regime is admitting. This lack of transparency poses a significant health risk to the Iranian people, as well as to Iran’s neighbors.
• Reports that COVID-19 has spread to Iranian prisons are deeply troubling and demand nothing less than the full and immediate release of all American citizens. Their detention amid increasingly deteriorating conditions poses a serious health risk and undermines their basic human dignity.
• The United States has and continues to offer humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people to help address the coronavirus outbreak. It is unfortunate for the Iranian people that their government has rejected this offer. Our priority has been to stand with the Iranian people – and this offer is still on the table.
• U.S. sanctions are not preventing aid from getting to Iran. The United States maintains broad authorizations that allow for the sale of food, agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices by U.S persons or from the United States to Iran.
• The media should know better than to believe and propagate Chinese and Russian propaganda that misleads the public into believing U.S. sanctions are to blame.
• Now, regime officials make false claims that the U.S. engineered the virus - focusing their time and resources attempting to deflect blame instead of taking responsibility and providing for the health, prosperity, and rights of Iranians, who deserve far better.
• For years, the Iranian regime has prioritized its proxies over the Iranian people and stolen the money the Iranian people deserve and expect to go for their healthcare. In July 2019, one billion euros intended for medical supplies “disappeared” and another $170 million dollars allocated for medical goods were instead spent on tobacco. Since 2012, the regime has spent over $16 billion on terror abroad – the Iranian people know that any sanctions relief would go to sponsor terrorist, not humanitarian activities.
• If regime officials are looking for funds to combat the outbreak, they can start by returning money they stole from the Iranian people. Supreme Leader Khamenei runs a hedge fund worth tens of billions of dollars, much of which was “earned” by confiscating resources from the Iranian people.
DISINFORMATION AND MISMANAGEMENT
• Instead of taking appropriate precautions against the spread of COVID-19, Iran’s terrorist airline, Mahan Air, operated at least 55 flights between Tehran and China in February, according to public reports.
• On February 10, Deputy Health Minsiter Ali-Reza Raisi told reporters: “I declare that there are no cases of coronavirus in the country and our citizens should only follow news released by the Health Ministry on the coronavirus." The same day, a 63-year-old Iranian woman died from the coronavirus.
• The Iranian regime only admitted that coronavirus had entered Iran on February 19, nine days after the first reported death.
• On March 5, the head of Iran’s cyber police announced the arrest of 121 Iranians for “spreading rumors” about the coronavirus. The regime also reportedly threatened medical staff against revealing accurate statistics of coronavirus cases and deaths.
• In March, the head of the IRGC, Hossein Salami, claimed the spread of COVID-19 in Iran might be due to a U.S. biological attack, and an advisor to the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament claimed coronavirus was being used as biological warfare by the United States.
• On March 12, Ayatollah Khamenei falsely claimed that there is evidence that COVID-19 might be a "biological attack."
• On March 17, Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif falsely claimed U.S. sanctions are killing Iranian "innocents" with its sanctions. He failed to note the Department of State has offered aid through Switzerland dating back to February.
• The Chinese Foreign Ministry has also falsely accused the United States of hampering Iran’s epidemic by not lifting sanctions. In fact, on February 28, the Department of State offered aid to specifically address the spread of COVID-19 in Iran, an offer that was conveyed to Iran through the government of Switzerland and rejected by the regime.
Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook
Feb. 28, 2020, at an event with Al Monitor:
Iran “can’t seem to tell the truth to its people or the world.”
“The regime is mismanaging the [coronavirus] crisis.”
“We look for ways to help where we can. But people have to understand, the regime has first responsibility to its own people.”
Feb. 27, 2020, in an interview with VOA Persian:
“We know the (Iranian) statistics are much worse than the regime is telling its own people. We wish the regime would prioritize the welfare of its own people over its revolutionary adventures.”
“This stuff tends to cascade and the regime should be concerned, because it has lost the support of its own people.”
White House Travel Restrictions
Feb. 29, 2020, in a statement:
On February 29, the White House expended travel restrictions on Iran due to the country’s coronavirus outbreak. Travel between China and the United States had already been restricted, and the Trump administrations elevated travel warnings for Italy and South Korea.
“CDC has determined that the Islamic Republic of Iran (Iran) is experiencing sustained person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2. As of February 28, 2020, Iran had 388 cases of COVID-19, a significant increase from prior days. In response to that increase, on February 28, 2020, CDC raised its infectious disease alert to level 3, its highest level, which recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Iran. According to the World Health Organization, as of February 28, 2020, 97 COVID-19 cases have been exported from Iran to 11 other countries.
Iran is not a trustworthy state actor, as it has repeatedly demonstrated through its history of engaging in malign activity, and confirmed most recently by its repeated denials of responsibility for shooting down an international airliner. The United States Government is therefore unable to rely on official information disseminated by Iran, undermining the effective evaluation and monitoring of travelers continuing to arrive from that country.
The potential for undetected transmission of the virus by infected individuals seeking to enter the United States from Iran threatens the security of our transportation system and infrastructure and the national security. Given the importance of protecting persons within the United States from the threat of this harmful communicable disease, I have determined that it is in the interests of the United States to take action to restrict and suspend the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of all aliens who were physically present within Iran during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.”
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