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COVID-19: Iran 'Successfully' Battling Outbreak Despite Sanctions says Rouhani

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has said U.S. sanctions have not hampered Iran's ability to fight the Middle East's worst outbreak of the coronavirus.
"We did not face a problem due to cohesion, good management, skilled and professional medical staff, and all of these came together," Rohani was quoted as saying during a cabinet meeting on April 2.

He also said that according to the country's Central Bank governor, "Iran has no problem in providing foreign currency until the end of the [Iranian] year," in March.

U.S. sanctions have cut off oil revenue and devastated the Iranian economy, causing the national currency, the rial, to fall in value.

"We have a good reserve of essential commodities for the next months and agriculture and trade ministers have given very promising reports for the situation during the coming months," Rohani said.

His comments come amid increased calls by Iranian officials, as well as a number of countries, the United Nations, and several U.S. lawmakers for the United States to ease sanctions, which some say have made it difficult for Tehran to contain the outbreak that has officially killed nearly 3,300 Iranians, including some 50 health-care workers and several politicians.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Twitter that Rohani's comments were a confirmation of Washington's stand that U.S.-led economic sanctions do not hamper Iran as it battles the coronavirus pandemic.

"We have repeatedly said that U.S. sanctions do not impede the Iranian regime's response to the COVID-19 crisis," Ortagus tweeted.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Vice President and Democratic Party presidential contender Joe Biden on April 2 joined those calling for an easing of U.S. sanctions reimposed in 2018 after U.S. Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program.

"In times of global crisis, America should lead," Biden said in a statement released on April 2.

"We should be the first to offer help to people who are hurting or in danger. That's who we are. That's who we've always been," he added.

While noting that Tehran "failed to respond effectively to this crisis," Biden said that "it makes no sense, in a global health crisis, to compound that failure with cruelty by inhibiting access to needed humanitarian assistance."

Iranian authorities have been criticized for a slow initial response to the pandemic and a failure to quarantine the city of Qom, where the coronavirus outbreak erupted in February.

Recently, Tehran has enforced tougher measures, including a ban on intercity travel and strict social-distancing rules, to try to contain the pandemic.

Biden said the United States should take a number of steps, including issuing licenses to pharmaceutical and medical-device companies and creating a dedicated channel for international banks to support Iran in its fight against COVID-19.

Trump has previously offered Iran humanitarian assistance.

Asked on April 2 whether he would consider easing sanctions on Iran amid the coronavirus outbreak, Trump told reporters that Tehran had not made a formal request.

"They haven't asked us to do that," he said, adding that "If they want to meet, we'd love to do that."

In his statement, Biden said the Trump administration's offer of aid to Iran was "insufficient" if not backed by concrete steps to ensure that Washington is not exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the country.

"Whatever our many, many disagreements with the Iranian government, it's the right and humane thing to do," Biden said, adding that Tehran should also make a humanitarian gesture and allow the U.S. citizens it has imprisoned to return home.

According to Iran's official figures released on April 3, the death toll from the coronavirus crisis is 3,294 people while 53,183 cases of infection have been confirmed. Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said recently that 3,956 of the patients were in intensive care.

The real numbers of infected and dead are believed to be significantly higher.

An exclusive report by Radio Farda based on statements made by local officials and medical experts puts the number of those infected with the virus in Iran at more than 70,000 and the death toll at 4,762 as of April 2.

Iranian leaders have called for the removal of the "unjust" and "illegal" sanctions while rejecting Washington's offer of help. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has also suggested that Washington could be behind the pandemic, which has killed more than 6,000 Americans and infected nearly 250,000.

Iran has asked the International Monetary Fund for $5 billion in emergency funds to battle the coronavirus outbreak.

According to tracking from Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 58,000 deaths worldwide.

 The United States leads the world with more than 261,000 COVID-19 cases. More than 6,600 Americans have died from the virus.


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