Behnam Ben Taleblu, an American-Iranian researcher at the Institute for the Federation for Defense of Democracies(FDD) in Washington, said that Iran has become the center of the spread of the coronavirus in the Middle East for several reasons, foremost of which is the Iranian regime's underestimation of the severity of the virus in the early stages of its spread inside the country.
This coincides with Washington's continued imposition of major economic sanctions on Tehran.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Iranian Ministry of Health downplayed the real number of deaths and infections from the coronavirus. More than 5,600 people are believed to have died in the past few weeks.
However, an Iranian government official estimated the number of deaths due to the epidemic at about 1,135 until the end of last week.
In an interview with North-Press, Ben Taleblu explained that the Iranian authorities have not yet allocated a sufficient budget to fight the epidemic because the Iranian regime attaches more importance to the spread of the "Iranian revolution" and the continuation of expansive activities in the region. He said that Tehran has recently increased the rate of uranium enrichment as part of its nuclear program "amid circumstances in which the Iranian people need resources to be used to combat the virus that kills thousands."
At the end of last week, the U.S. Department of State imposed a new package of sanctions on Iran, and it includes foreign entities that trade with Iran in the field of "petrochemicals", whether by buying, selling, or facilitating transportation operations. According to the U.S. Department of State's statement, the sanctions targeted companies in South Africa and Chinese Hong Kong-based companies and punished Iranian-run companies linked to the petrochemical sector.
Ben Taleblu said that the U.S. sanctions are not aimed at the health sector in Iran, but rather at “Iran's subversive activities in the region" and its nuclear program. Meanwhile, the United States has offered to help Iran through a mediator - the Swiss government - to provide Iran with health aid.
For its part, the British government urged the United States to reduce the sanctions imposed on Iran to help it combat the outbreak of the coronavirus.
The Iranian embassy in London also called on the lifting of the sanctions, warning that hospitals are suffering from increased pressure.
While the United States insists that it made an offer to Iran to help through the World Health Organization, "Iranians refused any help unless the sanctions are lifted."
Taleblu said that the risk of the spread of the epidemic in Iran today affects the entire Middle East. "It is Iran's deep trade relations with China that transmitted the virus to Iran in the first place, and now, religious tourism, fundraising campaigns, and the sending of fighters and military aid from Iran to Arab countries is a sign of great danger," he said.
He added: "The countries close to Iran are under pressure to not to close their borders and flights with Iran. After Iraq announced the suspension of all flights with Iran, it retreated from the decision after what appeared to be pressure from the Iranian government on Baghdad, and also it's believed that a number of the cases which arrived in Turkey were transferred from Iran."
On the other hand, a group of politicians in Washington described the U.S. sanctions against Iran in such circumstances as a massacre targeting the Iranian regime.
United States Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has called for the lifting of all sanctions on Iran. "U.S. sanctions should not be contributing to this humanitarian disaster.
As a caring nation, we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions.” Sen. Sanders said.
In a tweet, American political writer Ben Norton said that the sanctions against Iran at this time “make it virtually impossible for it to buy medical supplies and humanitarian goods.”