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Iran expert says corruption 'No. 1 national security threat in Iran'

Al-Monitor contributor Bijan Khajehpour discusses impact of coronavirus on Iran’s economy.

Al-Monitor contributor and economic analyst Bijan Khajehpour highlighted corruption as a major reason why the Iranian government was so slow in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic during an exclusive webinar today with Al-Monitor President Andrew Parasiliti. 

“If I were in charge of Iran, I would clear corruption as the No. 1 national security threat in Iran,” said Khajehpour. “If you go back to the question of why was Iran so slow in responding to the crisis, part of it was certainly this because the professionals, the technocrats who would have understood the dimensions of this crisis, were not in the right place. And if they were there, they were completely demotivated because of corruption and mismanagement.”

Still, he sounded a cautiously optimistic note on the Iranian economy’s ability to recover from the double threats of coronavirus and crippling US sanctions, noting that 50% of the Iranian economy is service-based despite the collapse of the petroleum sector.

He added that Iran’s $5 billion request for an International Monetary Fund loan to help cope with the COVID-19 pandemic could present the United States with an “opportunity” to show tangible support. He suggested that the United States could offer to support the loan in exchange for the release of wrongfully detained American prisoners, which would “show to the Iranian hard-liners that there is still an upside in relationships with Western countries.”

“Iran has not applied for a loan in more than 60 years, so this is something that could help Iran in the current situation,” he said.

European Union High Representative Josep Borrell announced Monday that the European Union would support Iran’s IMF loan request, but a State Department spokesperson declined to state a position on the issue in response to an Al-Monitor query. 

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