Iran’s Supreme Leader has refused US help with coronavirus and claimed American ‘charlatans’ may have created the disease.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today branded the offer by the United States to help Iran fight the pandemic ‘strange’.
In a televised speech to the Islamic Republic he also described US leaders as ‘charlatans’.
Iran is the most-affected country in the Middle East with more than 1,500 coronavirus deaths and 20,610 infected people.
Despite heightened tensions between the longtime foes, Washington has offered humanitarian assistance to Iran while it struggles with the coronavirus outbreak.
In refusing US assistance Khamenei cited an unfounded conspiracy theory that the virus could be man-made by America.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressing Iran in a televised speech in Tehran today
Iranian workers setting up a makeshift hospital inside the Iran Mall, northwest of Tehran, yesterday to battle coronavirus
Khamenei said: ‘Several times Americans have offered to help Iran to contain the virus…You are accused of creating this virus. I do not know whether it is true, but it is strange that you want to help Iran.
‘Aside from the fact that you have shortages in your fight against the virus, what if you give us a drug that will help the virus to remain in Iran permanently?’
Khamenei’s comments come as Iran faces crushing US sanctions blocking the country from selling its crude oil and accessing international financial markets.
But while Iranian civilian officials in recent days have increasingly criticised those sanctions, 80-year-old Khamenei instead chose to traffic in the same conspiracy theory increasingly used by Chinese officials about the new virus to deflect blame for the pandemic.
He said: ‘I do not know how real this accusation is but when it exists, who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication? Possibly your medicine is a way to spread the virus more.’
He also alleged without offering any evidence that the virus ‘is specifically built for Iran using the genetic data of Iranians which they have obtained through different means.’
Iran’s supreme leader today (pictured during his speech) refused US assistance to fight the coronavirus, citing an unfounded conspiracy theory that the virus could be man-made by America
Fire brigade crews wearing protective masks carrying out disinfection works due to the coronavirus outbreak in Tehran on Friday
‘You might send people as doctors and therapists, maybe they would want to come here and see the effect of the poison they have produced in person,’ he said.
There is no scientific proof offered anywhere in the world to support Khamenei’s comments.
However, his comments come after Chinese government spokesman Lijian Zhao tweeted earlier this month that it ‘might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe[s] us an explanation!’
Lijian likewise offered no evidence to support his claim, which saw the US State Department summon China’s ambassador to complain.
Wuhan is the Chinese city where the first cases of the disease were detected in December.
In recent days, the Trump administration has increasingly referred to the virus as the ‘Chinese’ or ‘Wuhan’ virus, while the World Health Organization used the term COVID-19 to describe the illness the virus causes.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 80, wearing disposable gloves at a tree-planting ceremony in Tehran earlier this month
Health officers in Tehran holding banners translating ‘Please stay at home, We’re here for you’ following the coronavirus
Even a US senator from Arkansas has trafficked in the unfounded conspiracy theory it was a man-made Chinese bioweapon.
Khamenei, an anti-US hardliner, said the Islamic Republic had the capability to overcome ‘any kind of crisis and challenges, including the coronavirus outbreak’.
Tensions have been running high between Iran and the United States since 2018, when US President Donald Trump exited Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.
Frictions increased when Trump ordered a US drone strike that killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani on January 3. Iran retaliated by hitting US targets in Iraq on January 8.
‘Our number one enemy is America. It is the most wicked, sinister enemy of Iran … its leaders are charlatans,’ Khamenei added.
Iranian authorities have blamed US sanctions for hampering its efforts to curb the outbreak and called for the restrictions to be lifted. Washington has refused to lift sanctions.
For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough.
For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
An Iranian health inspector checks a makeshift hospital set up inside the Iran Mall in Tehran
Scientists have not yet determined exactly how the new coronavirus first infected people.
Evidence suggests it originated in bats, which infected another animal that spread it to people at a market in Wuhan.
The now-shuttered Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market advertised dozens of species such as giant salamanders, baby crocodiles and raccoon dogs that were often referred to as wildlife, even when they were farmed.
An article published last week in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Medicine similarly said it was ‘improbable’ that the virus ’emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus.’
Khamenei made the comments in a speech in Tehran broadcast live Sunday across Iran marking Nowruz, the Persian New Year.
He had called off his usual speech at Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad over the virus outbreak.
Iran is one of the world’s worst affected countries by coronavirus. Pictured are firefighters disinfecting areas of Tehran over the weekend
His comments come as Iran has over 21,600 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus amid 1,685 reported deaths, according to government figures released Sunday.
Iran is one of the hardest-hit countries in the world by the new virus. Across the Mideast, Iran represents eight of 10 cases of the virus and those leaving the Islamic Republic have carried the virus to other countries.
Iranian officials have criticized US offers of aid during the virus crisis as being disingenuous. They have accused the Trump administration of wanting to capitalize on its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign against Tehran since withdrawing from the nuclear deal in May 2018.
However, the US has directly offered the Islamic Republic aid in the past despite decades of enmity, like during the devastating Bam earthquake of 2003.
Reassigning blame could be helpful to Iran’s government, which faced widespread public anger after denying for days it shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing 176 people. Widespread economic problems as well has seen mass demonstrations in recent years that saw hundreds reportedly killed.
Iranian hard-liners have supported conspiracy theories in the past when it suited their interests.
Following the September 11 attacks, some publicly doubted al-Qaida’s role and state TV promoting the unfounded conspiracy theory that the Americans blew up the building themselves.
Former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad similarly raised doubt about the September 11 attack, calling it a ‘big lie,’ while also describing the Holocaust as a ‘myth.’
Meanwhile on Sunday, Iran imposed a two-week closure on major shopping malls and centres across the country to prevent spreading the virus. Pharmacies, supermarkets, groceries and bakeries will remain open.
In Saudi Arabia, the kingdom said its armed forces are now taking part in combating the virus, setting up mobile hospitals in various cities.
And in Kuwait, authorities have instituted a nightly curfew from 5pm to 4am, warning violators face up to three years in prison and fines of $32,000 if arrested and convicted.