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Rouhani Says US Missed COVID-19 Opportunity To Apologize To Iran For Sanctions

President Hassan Rouhani holding a video conference with government officials as part of social distancing efforts. March 14, 2020

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said the COVID-19 outbreak provided a good opportunity for the United States to apologize for the sanctions it has imposed on Iran.

In remarks on April 1, Rouhani characterized U.S. sanctions against Iran as a "mistake," adding that "This was a historic opportunity for the United States to apologize for its mistake and prove that it is not an enemy of the Iranian people."

Rouhani's comment came amid a widespread campaign by Islamic Republic officials and supporters abroad to call on the United States to lift the sanctions on Tehran as Iranian officials are under pressure to cope with the outbreak.

Rouhani and other Iranian officials have repeatedly claimed since the start of the outbreak that they would have served the nation better if the sanctions were lifted.

Even when President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials offered aid for the COVID-19 patients, Iranian officials rejected the offer insisting that the sanctions should be lifted.

Washington says the sanctions are imposed on Iran to bring the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table over its ballistic missile program, nuclear program and Tehran's destabilizing military ambitions in the region, in order to eliminate threats against U.S. allies in the region including Israel.

U.S. officials have made it clear repeatedly that the sanctions will not be lifted unless Iran stops the threats.

But the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has prohibited any talks with the U.S. officials and the Iranian officials insist that they are not going to change their regional policy.

As a result, the Iranian people have been suffering from a 40 percent inflation rate according to the Iranian Statistical Center while Rouhani has acknowledged that Iran has lost $200 billion during the past three years because of the sanctions.

In the meantime, with the outbreak of the coronavirus Rouhani and other officials have renewed the accusations that the United States prevents food and medicine from reaching Iran. U.S. officials have in return reiterated many times that there is no hindrance to the export of medicine and foodstuff to Iran and blamed Iranian officials' corruption and mismanagement for the shortages in Iran.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated on Tuesday that medical and humanitarian aid are exempted from sanctions. Meanwhile, he did not rule out the possibility of considering a reduction in the sanctions.

In the meantime, Rouhani claimed a victory in his remarks Wednesday, saying coronavirus infection rates are declining across the country.

In another development, responding to a publicity stunt by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif demanding the lifting of sanctions as a measure to help the COVID-19 patients, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said on Monday that "If the Iranian regime needs funds to deal with the Coronavirus, it can access billions in Khamenei's tax-free hedge fund." She also said to Zarif: "Stop Lying. Stop Stealing."

In another development, the EU said on Tuesday that it has sent a sizable shipment of medicine and medical equipment to Iran using INSTEX, the European financial mechanism to support help Iran conduct permissible trade. However, the shipment has nothing to do with the COVID-10 outbreak as the order for the medicine dates back to several months ago.

In Early February, when Switzerland supplied a shipment of medicine and medical supplies to Iran, officials at the Iranian Health Ministry said what they have received was very little and Iran has been importing 200 times as much medicine and medical supplies during the previous year. This means Iran is able to import humanitarian supplies despite U.S. sanctions.

Meanwhile, other reports from Iran indicate that the import of medicine continues, however, they need to be cleared from the customs but the bureaucratic hindrances delay the process, as many reports have maintained.

On the other hand, the Iranian Chamber of Commerce claimed on September 8, 2019 that medicine is being smuggled out of Iran. That shows corruption and illegal activities under the noses of law enforcement authorities.