Coronavirus: Iran pushes for IMF loan to tackle Middle East’s worst outbreak
Iran is currently the worst-hit country by the coronavirus in the Middle East, where it has killed more than 3,800 people and infected over 62,000 others. The country’s Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Shamkhani said the US was using its clout within the IMF to stonewall the loan request.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has pressed harder for a $5 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to fight the Middle East's worst coronavirus outbreak, saying the Fund would be guilty of discrimination if it withholds the money after reports said the US was seeking to block the loan.
“We urge all international organizations to fulfill their legal duties. Iran is a member of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and has always paid its shares; some of our resources are at their disposal,” Rouhani said on Wednesday.
“If there is to be discrimination between Iran and other countries, it is not tolerable for us and the world's public opinion,” he added.
Rouhani also said some businesses will remain closed until further notice, after the authorities announced last week that they will begin to ease a shutdown order from April 11.
Iran's central bank wrote last month to the IMF to request the $5 billion from its Rapid Financing Initiative, an emergency programme that aids countries faced with sudden shocks such as natural disasters. It was Tehran's first request for IMF aid since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In a tweet on Sunday, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, accused the US of blocking Tehran's loan request from the IMF.
Iran has banned intercity travel and shut non-essential businesses to fight an outbreak that according to official figures has killed 3,872 people and infected 62,589.
The authorities have said some businesses whose operations do not create a big risk of spreading the virus will be allowed to reopen from Saturday. They have not given a detailed explanation of which businesses fall into that category.
"But high-risk businesses will remain closed until further notice," Rouhani said. "We should continue fighting the disease while our economic activities continue as much as possible."
An IMF official has said the Fund is in dialogue with Iran, with talks aimed at understanding Iran's needs and what is required for the loan request to be processed.
The coronavirus outbreak has further damaged Iran's economy, already battered by US sanctions, reimposed since 2018 when Washington exited an agreement to lift them in return for curbs to Iran's nuclear programme. Tehran has blamed the United States and its “maximum pressure” policy for restricting Iran’s ability to respond effectively to the virus.
"The US sanctions on Iran are economic and medical terrorism ... They are in violation of international medical conventions," Rouhani said.
US officials have said that the sanctions do not target medicine for Iran and Washington had offered to help Tehran face the outbreak. Iran has dismissed the offer as ridiculous.