Iran Foreign Minister Claims U.S. Sanctions Make It 'Virtually Impossible' to Fight Coronavirus

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has claimed that American sanctions are hampering Iran's ability to fight the spread of coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,100 Iranians to date.

Zarif released a video message Wednesday to celebrate the Iranian new year, and which he also used to condemn continued U.S. sanctions on the country despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

"My country is among the hardest hit by the coronavirus," Zarif said, according to the state-funded Islamic Republic News Agency. "We are now learning how to better confront it — sadly a huge part of the danger Iranians face is due to restrictions unjustly imposed on them by the United States government."

The Iranian regime has claimed that American sanctions are preventing the government from buying medical supplies needed to treat its citizens for coronavirus and other health issues. The U.S. has dismissed those assertions, arguing sanctions include an exemption for medical products.

But Iran says that sanctions on the country's financial system mean it cannot process transactions to secure vital medical supplies, even if they are technically allowed.

"The economic siege imposed on us impedes all legitimate trade and deprives us from our own resources — the ones necessary to address the needs of our people including their health and livelihoods," Zarif continued.

"Even amid this pandemic the U.S. government has fully refused to lift its unlawful and collective punishment making it virtually impossible for us to even buy medicine and medical equipment."

The U.S. imposed new sanctions on Iran this week after a series of rocket attacks on American and Coalition troops in Iraq, suspected to have been launched by Iranian-backed militias.

Zarif criticized the countries "who officially oppose these sanctions" but "have chosen to comply with them" regardless. "We are all in this together to better confront the virus we need to better work together, but to get there the war on multilateralism, international cooperation and the rule of law must come to an end," he said.

A State Department spokesperson told Newsweek, "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 spokesperson argued that Iran has prioritized funding for regional proxy forces over healthcare, and suggested, "the Iranian people know that any sanctions relief would go to sponsor terrorist, not humanitarian, activities."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is among those who have accused the Iranian regime of covering up the scale of coronavirus infections and deaths in the country. The State Department spokesperson said that Tehran is now attempting to divert attention from its own failings via "false claims" of U.S. sanctions pressure and conspiracy theories that America is behind the outbreak.

The United States has and continues to offer humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people for their response to the coronavirus outbreak," the statement added. "It is unfortunate for the Iranian people that their government has rejected this offer to date. The media should know better than to believe Chinese and Russian propaganda that misleads the public into believing U.S. sanctions are to blame."

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • If you feel unwell (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and call local health authorities in advance.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
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This file photo shows Iranians inside the capital Tehran's grand bazaar, during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on March 18, 2020. -/AFP via Getty Images/Getty

This article has been updated to include comment from the State Department.