Iran Says U.S. Health Care System Can't Handle Coronavirus, Offers to Help If Sanctions Are Lifted

Iran warned that the U.S. health care system may not be able to handle the new coronavirus pandemic and has offered to help if the United States lifted sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Iranian Deputy Health Minister Alireza Raisi announced Thursday that his country was "ready to help America control the coronavirus," advising that Washington reassess its handling of the COVID-19 crisis. "The American health care system is incapable of controlling the coronavirus pandemic," he said, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

"It's not that we're happy about America's inability," he added. "As a Muslim country, we are not happy about anyone's illness."

The COVID-19 coronavirus disease that has afflicted more than 235,000 people across the globe, including nearly 10,000 in the United States and up to 18,400 in Iran, has only further ratcheted up tensions between the two longtime foes. Out of the world's more than 9,700 deaths, over 150 have occurred in the U.S., while almost 1,300 have happened in Iran.

Raisi urged President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "to lift sanctions if they want to do something humanitarian." The top U.S. diplomat has regularly criticized Iran's own handling of the outbreak but Raisi said he instead wished a medical expert capable of discussing the matter scientifically.

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Iranian firefighters disinfect streets in the capital Tehran in a bid to halt the wild spread of the new coronavirus, March 13. Iran was among the first places outside China that COVID-19 cases spread rapidly, afflicting even senior government officials and lawmakers. AFP/Getty Images

Pompeo has accused the Islamic Republic of covering up the true extent of the contagion and publishing misinformation. On Wednesday, Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani echoed unfounded claims earlier shared by some Chinese officials suggesting COVID-19 may have originated not in China's central Hubei district but in the U.S.

A day earlier, Pompeo criticized what he called "the Iranian regime's misinformation campaign surrounding the origination of the Wuhan virus," using a term not accepted by the World Health Organization to describe the COVID-19 illness.

"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," Pompeo told reporters.

"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," he added. "They know the truth: The Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice."

Though Pompeo said the U.S. would "continue to offer assistance to Iran in numerous ways," he also announced that same day yet another round of sanctions targeting three individuals and nine entities from China, Iran and South Africa for doing business in Iran's petrochemicals sector. The U.S. has steadily tightened restrictions against Iran since the Trump administration left a 2015 nuclear deal between the two, as well as China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom.

Beijing and Moscow have deeply criticized Washington's ongoing sanctions against Tehran, especially during the pandemic. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova told a press briefing Thursday that the international battle against COVID-19 "tests our ability to remain human beings at the most dramatic moments" as well as "the readiness of each individual and whole countries to act in a responsible way and present a common front amid new global challenges that know no borders."

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Thursday, however, that U.S. sanctions are "making it virtually impossible for us to even buy medicine and medical equipment."

Countries have taken dramatic emergency measures in order to curb the coronavirus threat as even the nations thought to be most capable were crippled by the sudden influx of patients suffering serious respiratory infections. Quarantines, lockdowns and travel bans have become ubiquitous around the world.

Saint Patrick's Day parades were canceled across the U.S. earlier this week. Iranian city streets were unusually quiet ahead of Nowruz, the Persian New Year that falls this Friday.

Still, Washington and Tehran have failed to find common ground in the struggle against the disease. In Iraq, a country that considers both the U.S. and Iran partners, violence surrounding the feud between the two powers has led to deadly rocket attacks and airstrikes that threatened to destabilize a country still ravaged by years of war, most recently against the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), another mutual challenge faced by the U.S. and Iran.

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A graphic provided by Statista shows the global spread of the new coronavirus as of March 19. More than 230,000 have been afflicted, about 85,000 of whom have recovered and over 9.700 of whom have died. Statista

The above map was provided by Statista