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US Says All Countries Should Ban Iran's Mahan Air To Avoid Coronavirus And Sanctions

State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus speaks during a briefing at the US Department of State January 17, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

The U.S. State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus on Friday called on all countries to keep Iran's Mahan Air out to "avoid coronavirus and sanction risk".

"Deeply troubled weapons of mass destruction proliferator Mahan Air, which supports terrorism and the Maduro regime, is also reportedly suppressing air crew concerns and spreading COVID-19, Ortagus wrote in a tweet and added: 'Avoid the coronavirus and sanction risks by keeping Mahan Air out of your country".

Iran's Mahan Air which is controlled by the Revolutionary Guard has been under U.S. sanctions since 2011 for allegedly transporting fighters and weapons to Iran's proxies and support of terrorism on behalf of the Revolutionary Guard. Germany and France joined the U.S. in denying landing rights to Mahan Air in 2019.

The airline is blamed for bringing coronavirus to Iran in January and February by continuing its flights to Chinese cities including Wuhan, the epicenter of coronavirus epidemic in China.

Iran announced its first cases of coronavirus infections and deaths on February 19 and since then the number of fatalities according to official figures has increased to nearly 6,600, with more than 105,000 diagnosed with the disease.

Since April 21 Mahan Air has opened an air bridge between Iran and Venezuela. "Our assumption is that those planes that come from Iran are bringing things for the oil industry, and they return full of gold as a form of payment," El Politico on March 30 quoted Elliot Abrams, the U.S. Special manager for Venezuela as saying.

However, informed sources told Bloomberg that Venezuela was sending some 9 tons of gold – an amount equal to about $500 million – to Iran by Mahan Air for help in revival of its crippled gasoline refineries.

The United States has urged other countries to deny overflight rights to Mahan Air in addition to the denial of landing rights already in place by some countries. "You've got one terrorist regime helping another terrorist regime," the U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said in an exclusive interview with Radio Farda on April 30.