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Rouhani Says US Sanctions No Obstacle For Iran's Fight Against Coronavirus

People walk past Azadi (Freedom) Tower lit up with messages of hope in solidarity with all the countries affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in Tehran, March 31, 2020
People walk past Azadi (Freedom) Tower lit up with messages of hope in solidarity with all the countries affected by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in Tehran, March 31, 2020

President Hassan Rouhani says U.S. sanctions have not curbed Iran's ability to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak. Meanwhile, for the first time he acknowledged that there is no end in sight for the current crisis.

The remark made at the cabinet's economic meeting on Thursday April 2 contradicts Rouhnai and his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's weeks-long propaganda campaign in the press and social media targeting the United States and Europe about the adverse impact of the sanctions on Iran's ability to confront the outbreak.

Rouhani said that according to the Iranian Central Bank Governor "Iran has no problem in providing foreign currency until the end of the [Iranian] year," in March 2021.

Rouhani also said that Iran is in a good position for procuring food and medicines. "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."

U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus tweeted, “We have repeatedly said that U.S. sanctions do not impede the Iranian regime’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. Today @HassanRouhani has confirmed this to be true: "The sanctions have failed to hamper our efforts to fight against the coronavirus outbreak."

He also said that around 4,000,000 tons of essential commodities are currently stuck at the Iranian customs. "We should have observed some regulations in order to clear the goods from the customs," he explained vaguely.

This comes while Iran’s customs office is part of the Rouhani administration. Nevertheless, Rouhani's aides including his Trade Ministry and Health Ministry officials have been constantly complaining about their inability to get their imports cleared from the Iranian Customs Administration.

Economic analysts in Iran have attributed the problem to widespread financial corruption in the administration and the intervention Revolutionary Guard in the affairs of the customs for financial gain and in order to weaken the administration as a political rival.

However, Rouhani said at the meeting on Thursday that "Thanks to decisions made by the Central bank and Trade Ministry, this four million tons of essential commodities will pour into the markets during the coming days." But he did not say why these decisions were not made before and how one part of his administration can obstruct the activities of other parts.

Rouhani said that there are also other goods stuck at the customs that are needed to boost production and promised that overloaded customs will be cleared "soon" and even goods that have been waiting on board ships for a long time will be unloaded and distributed.

Going back to operational matters about disease control, Rouhani said that on Sunday April 5 the government will make new decisions about whether to continue the current restrictions that will be in place up to April 8.

Both Rouhani and several other officials have indicated previously that restrictions and social distancing rules might be extended up to April 18. Medical experts have contended that restrictions should be in place at least for another month.

However, for the first time since the start of the outbreak Rouhani who was always unusually optimistic about an easy and quick end to the COVID-19 outbreak, said on Thursday that no one anywhere in the world can say when this situation could come to an end.

In the meantime, the latest official report on the number of Iranians affected by the virus and those who died as a result of COVID-19, put the death toll at 3,160 and the number of COVID-19 patients at 50,468.

Health Ministry Spokesman Kianush Jahanpur said for the first time that 3,956 of these patients are in critical conditions at intensive care units.

The figures announced by the Iranian Health Ministry are widely questioned by the media and health officials. The World Health Organization has said that actual figures can be up to five times higher.

An independent exclusive report by Radio Farda based on the 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 4762 as of April 2.