Rouhani calls US offer to fight coronavirus 'great lie’

President Hassan Rouhani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have both rejected a US offer to help fight the coronavirus and say the United States is instead preventing them from being able to fight back against the pandemic.

al-monitor Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 26, 2019.  Photo by REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid.

Mar 23, 2020

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani spoke at a Cabinet meeting on March 23 for the first time since the Iranian new year to address the country’s fight against the novel coronavirus and addressed the US offer to help.

“That the Americans say 'We are ready to help' under the difficult conditions of the coronavirus is one of the great lies of history,” Rouhani said. “It’s as if someone has taken a well and does not permit you to have clear water and then brings you a glass of muddy water and offers it to you and says 'I know you are thirsty; I have come here to help,'” he added. 

Rouhani continued, “If you want to help, remove your boots from the path and step aside from the movement of a nation. You have come and closed the well. You have made problems for the sale of oil. You have made problems for banking transactions, for medicine, for food, raw material.” 

“We don’t want your muddy water; just step to the side, remove the obstacles,” Rouhani said, adding, "Leave alone the other nations and companies and buyers and exporters and importers.”

The offer of US help is in reference to comments made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Feb. 28 when he told reporters, “We have made offers to the Islamic Republic of Iran to help, and we’ve made it clear to others around the world and in the region that assistance, humanitarian assistance to push back against the coronavirus in Iran is something the United States of America fully supports.” Immediately in response to Pompeo’s offer, Iran's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Iran had not believed the offer was genuine and that Pompeo had notified the US media of the offer to help before the offer was made officially to the Swiss, who act as intermediaries between the two countries given they have no formal diplomatic relations. 

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the final decision-maker in the country, also spoke about the US offer of help Iran during his address March 22, rejecting any US assistance. In his Nowruz speech — typically given in the city of Mashhad at the Imam Reza shrine but this time given via video due to the ban on public gatherings because of the coronavirus — Khamenei said, “The comments by the Americans are very strange because they have a shortage of medicine and equipment, so if they have the ability, they should help their own people.”

Khamenei said the Americans themselves are spreading the coronavirus but are not even aware of it; therefore, “What reasonable person would accept the help of this country?” He also said it’s possible the United States would send medicine that would help spread the coronavirus to make it last longer or send medical staff to gather information.

Iran continues to struggle to combat the spread of the coronavirus. As of March 23, there have been a total of 23,049 cases and 1,812 deaths. In the last 24 hours, there have been 1,411 new cases and 127 deaths. While these are the official numbers, Iranian officials have previously said the actual numbers are higher.

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