20:14 GMT31 May 2020
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    With over 47,000 cases and 3,000+ deaths, Iran has emerged as the Middle Eastern nation hit hardest by the COVID-19 crisis, with the virus proving fatal not only to ordinary people, but to the nation’s top leadership as well.

    The United States has wasted a historic opportunity to lift its sanctions against Iran in a sign of solidarity with that country’s people amid its battle with the new coronavirus, President Hassan Rouhani has said.

    “Unfortunately, the Americans did not learn a lesson even amid these acute and tough international circumstances,” Rouhani said, speaking to members of his cabinet in Tehran on Wednesday, his remarks quoted by Press TV.

    “They did not realize what they had to do. This was the best historic opportunity for the Americans to retrace their wrong path, and to tell their nation, for once at least, that ‘we are not against the Iranian nation,” the Iranian president added.

    Accusing Washington of always acting “against the Iranian people,” Rouhani suggested that “today, their opposition towards the [Iranian] people came to be witnessed more clearly,” with the Trump administration not only failing to ease sanctions but piling on additional restrictions, even as the international community needs to unite to slow the disease.

    Tonnes of medical equipment and coronavirus testing kits provided bt the World Health Organisation are pictured at the al-Maktum International airport in Dubai on March 2, 2020 as it is prepared to be delivered to Iran with a United Arab Emirates military transport plane.
    © AFP 2020 / KARIM SAHIB
    Tonnes of medical equipment and coronavirus testing kits provided bt the World Health Organisation are pictured at the al-Maktum International airport in Dubai on March 2, 2020 as it is prepared to be delivered to Iran with a United Arab Emirates military transport plane.

    Lawmakers Lobby Trump

    Nearly three dozen US lawmakers led by independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Democratic New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar issued an appeal to the White House on Tuesday, asking the White House to ease sanctions against Iran amid the humanitarian crisis the country is facing due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

    The letter, addressing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, requests that “rather than continu[ing] to invoke new sanctions in the Iranian people’s hour of need, we urge you to substantially suspend sanctions on Iran during this global public health emergency in a humanitarian gesture to the Iranian people to better enable them to fight the virus.”

    “By targeting an entire economy that supports more than 80 million people, US sanctions make it harder for ordinary Iranians to obtain basic necessities like food and hygienic supplies essential to stemming the pandemic and that are basic to survival,” the letter adds.

    In a statement accompanying the letter, Senator Sanders said that amid the pandemic, “as a caring nation, we must lift any sanctions hurting Iran’s ability to address this crisis, including financial sanctions…We are all in this together. If there was ever a moment to show each other unprecedented cooperation and support internationally, this is that moment.”

    Pompeo and Mnuchin have not commented on the letter.

    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, U.S., March 25, 2020.
    © REUTERS / POOL
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, U.S., March 25, 2020.

    Fresh Sanctions

    The Trump administration added five organizations and fifteen individuals to its Iran sanctions list last week. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blasted Washington, accusing the US of engaging in “economic terrorism” even as “COVID-19 ravages the world, sparing no nation.” Zarif stressed that the world should stop observing America's “bullying sanctions” against his country, calling them immoral.

    Earlier, Pompeo accused Iran’s government of “gross mishandling” of the COVID-19 crisis, and accused the country of rejecting US humanitarian aid. Zarif responded by suggesting that Pompeo was “spouting 3rd rate propaganda.”

    With well over 47,500 total infections, Iran was one of the countries hit earliest and hardest by COVID-19’s spread, with the country’s response restricted by a lack of basic medical supplies. The country currently ranks behind the US, Italy, Spain, China, Germany, and France in the number of total cases, although its fatality rate has been among the highest.

    Workers at at the Behesht-e Masoumeh cemetery in Qom, Iran, prepare mass graves for those killed by COVID-19 novel coronavirus

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