- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2020

The U.S. is doing “everything” it can to provide assistance to manage the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, which has reported one of the highest contraction and death rates from COVID-19 outside of mainland China and Italy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.

During a press conference at the White House, Mr. Pompeo explained that humanitarian assistance to Iran is not restricted under the host of sanctions the U.S. has placed on Iran. The Trump administration has squeezed Iran’s economy and financial institutions through harsh sanctions over the last year.

“The whole world should know that humanitarian assistance into Iran is wide open. It’s not sanctioned,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We’re doing everything we can to facilitate both the humanitarian assistance moving in and to make sure the financial transactions connected to that can take place as well.”

A large chunk of the COVID-19 cases have been traced to Iran. Nearly 20,000 people in Iran have contracted the virus and at least 1,400 have died as of Friday morning, but exile groups critical of the regime say the real number is much higher and claim the government has not been honest about the death toll, which could be well over 6,000 to date.

U.S. officials, including Mr. Pompeo, have reiterated that assistance has and continues to be offered to Iran, but there has not yet been any indication that Tehran has accepted humanitarian resources.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has pointed to the crippling Trump administration sanctions on the country as a cause for the massive spread of the virus.

“Unlawful US sanctions drained Iran’s economic resources, impairing ability to fight #COVID-19. They literally kill innocents,” Mr. Zarif said on Twitter this week.

But Mr. Pompeo on Friday said there are no sanctions on medicine or humanitarian assistance going into Iran.

“They’ve got a terrible problem there, and we want that humanitarian and health care assistance to get there,” he said.

• Lauren Toms can be reached at lmeier@washingtontimes.com.

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