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Pompeo Says Iran Weighs Freeing Detained Americans Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on the release of the 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices at the State Department in Washington, March11, 2020
WASHINGTON, March 17 (Reuters) -

Iran is considering releasing some Americans it has detained, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday, as the United States imposed fresh sanctions on Iran and said it stood ready to help the Islamic Republic deal with the coronavirus.

Pompeo made the announcements during a news conference in which he made clear that the United States plans to continue its maximum-pressure campaign to deny Iran revenues by choking off its ability to sell its oil abroad. The campaign aims to force Iran to limit its nuclear, missile and regional activities.

The State Department is blacklisting nine entities based in South Africa, Hong Kong and China, as well as three Iranian individuals, for engaging in "significant transactions" to buy, sell, transport or market Iranian petrochemicals, he said.

Separately, the Commerce Department said it will add six individuals - including five Iranian nuclear scientists - and 18 corporations to the U.S. "Entity List" for enabling or assisting with Iran’s nuclear program, Pakistan’s unsafeguarded nuclear and missile programs, and Russian military modernization efforts. The move covers one company in Iran, two entities in China, nine in Pakistan, and five in the United Arab Emirates, constricting the export of certain items to them.

In addition, Pompeo urged Iran to free U.S. citizens it has detained as a humanitarian gesture because of the coronavirus pandemic. Iran has reported 16,169 coronavirus cases and 988 deaths in one of the worst national outbreaks outside China, where the pandemic originated.

"We are aware that they are thinking about whether to release them or not," Pompeo told reporters. "We are communicating with them, and we are urging them, as we have done publicly many times, to release every American that is being wrongfully held there as a humanitarian gesture, given the risk that is posed to them given what is taking place inside of Iran."