Iran hits out at US as coronavirus death toll passes 3,000

Agence France-Presse . Tehran | Published: 16:31, Apr 01,2020 | Updated: 21:26, Apr 01,2020


Members of an Iraqi Shiite family, all wearing masks, pose for a picture during their visit on February 25, 2020 to the shrine of Imam Ali in the holy Iraqi central city of Najaf, where the first case of coronavirus COVID-19 has been documented in Iraq. — AFP file photo

Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus has passed 3,000, the health ministry said on Wednesday, as president Hassan Rouhani accused Washington of missing a ‘historic opportunity’ to lift sanctions.

Tensions between the arch-foes have soared since president Donald Trump abandoned a landmark nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed sweeping sanctions.

Tehran has repeatedly called on Washington to reverse its policy, which has been opposed by US allies, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the coronavirus death toll in Iran now stood at 3,036 following 138 new fatalities in the past 24 hours.

He added that 2,987 new cases had been confirmed, bringing the total to 47,593, with 15,473 of those hospitalised having recovered and been discharged.

‘This was the best, historic opportunity for the Americans to reverse their wrong path and for once, tell their nation they are not against the Iranian people,’ Rouhani said in televised comments at a cabinet meeting.

They ‘did not learn their lesson even during this difficult global situation,’ he said.

Meanwhile, Iran warned the US Wednesday that it was leading the Middle East to disaster in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic after it deployed Patriot air defence missiles to Iraq.

Washington had been in talks with Baghdad about the proposed deployment since January but it was not immediately clear whether it had secured its approval or not.

Iran, which wields huge influence in its western neighbour, said that it had not.

The US deployment runs ‘counter to the official position of the Iraqi government, parliament and people,’ a foreign ministry statement said.

It called for a halt to ‘warmongering during the coronavirus outbreak’ and warned that US military activities in the region could lead it to ‘instability and disaster’.

Iran is in the throes of one of the world’s deadliest coronavirus outbreaks with more than 3,000 fatalities. The US death toll has meanwhile surpassed Iran’s, topping 4,000.

US forces should ‘respect the wishes of the Iraqi people and government and leave the country,’ the Iranian foreign ministry added.

The Patriot is Washington’s principal anti-missile missile system.

Its deployment to Iraq comes after a spate of rocket and other attacks on bases and other facilities used by US personnel that Washington has blamed on Tehran-backed Shiite militias or Tehran itself.

One of the Patriot batteries was delivered to the Ain al-Asad in western Iraq last week and is now being assembled, a US defence official and an Iraqi military source said.

Ain al-Asad was hit by a retaliatory Iranian missile strike in January after Washington killed Tehran’s foreign operations chief Major General Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike just outside Baghdad airport.

A second battery was deployed to a base in Arbil, capital of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.

Two more are still in Kuwait, where Washington has rear bases for its operations in Iraq, the US official said.

Iraqi leaders have resisted US deployment of the advanced weapons system for fear that it would anger Iran and further ratchet up tensions between its main allies.

On Monday, Iraq’s caretaker prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi warned against any ‘offensive military action without the approval of the Iraqi government.’ He did not specifically mention the Patriot deployment.

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