Report. While the Islamic Republic grapples with a surge in contagions and nine provinces become red zones, Foreign Minister Zarif took stock of the health emergency and international tensions.

Iran describes dueling crises: COVID-19 and US unilateralism

“We are faced with two viruses: one of them is the coronavirus … but we are also faced with a second virus, which is just as dangerous, and that is unilateralism. … We’ve seen the departure of the United States from every institution, including its attack on the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic which requires global cooperation, and … pressure from the United States to prevent us from even having access to food and medicine,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the start of his interview via video link with the director of the Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), Paolo Magri, held on Monday as part of the Mediterranean Dialogues initiative.

While the rest of the conversation mostly focused on international politics, the coronavirus emergency was an inescapable topic: on Monday, there were 160 deaths from the virus in Iran, just below Sunday’s record (163), for a total of 11,731 confirmed deaths. The number of people admitted to intensive care increased to 3,201, while the number of recovered patients rose to 204,083. The total number of tests carried out was 1,820,003. However, only hospital deaths were counted, and the low official numbers are due to the limited number of tests, while the National Committee for Combating Coronavirus is assuming that there have been more than 18 million cases (over 20% of the population), a figure that emerged from the results of serological tests on random population samples. According to a member of the Tehran City Council, 5,000 people have died in the capital alone.

After the lockdown was lifted in mid-April, contagions and deaths have increased dramatically: 9 (out of 31) provinces have been declared red zones. Five deputies and a number of soccer players from Esteghlal and Foolad Khuzestan also fell ill. This is why it is currently compulsory to wear a mask both in public and in indoor spaces. Those who do not respect the rules, for example in shopping centers, will not receive service. More restrictive measures will also be taken on public transport, where masks are already mandatory. “Businesses that do not comply with the rules will be closed for a week, and civil servants will be reported, marked as absent and barred from entering the offices,” President Rohani announced, himself wearing a mask.

Going back to Zarif’s dialogue with Magri, their next topic was the nuclear deal, highlighting the five years of negotiations which were the result of long diplomatic work involving the 5+1, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. Zarif explains that “Iran remained compliant with that compromise, even though from the beginning, even the Obama administration did not fulfil all its commitments,” which meant, for example, that the U.S. “took almost seven months to consider the request by Airbus to provide Iran with [civilian] airplanes.” Moreover, in November 2016, Tehran triggered the agreement’s dispute settlement mechanism when the U.S. Congress extended the Iran Sanctions Act for 10 years and “President Obama did not use his constitutional authority as required by the JCPOA to prevent that.” Zarif added that “I believe it is possible to save the agreement if the Europeans start implementing what they agreed to implement,” while they have shown themselves unable to do that so far, so much so that “all European companies have already left Iran.”

When taking questions from the audience, the Iranian Foreign Minister stressed the “economic terrorism” approach implemented by the United States against both Iran and Lebanon, as well as the pressure being exerted on the neighboring countries of the Islamic Republic, first and foremost Iraq. On the latter, he added that “Iran and Iraq are connected with strong bonds,” both in the military sphere, in the common fight against ISIS, thanks to the work of General Soleimani who “was a hero in Iraq,” and in the economic sphere: “we are providing Iraq with electricity [and] natural gas,” even during the summer, when “we are buying electricity from outside Iran and selling it to Iraq.”

On the topic of the U.S. elections, Zarif believes that the outcome will be affected both by the pandemic and possibly by the publication of the recent book by former National Security Advisor John Bolton, but it is difficult to predict the result. In any case, “in international law, governments inherit the commitments of the previous government, even after revolutions, and I don’t think in 2016 we had a revolution in the United States, although President Trump might want to see it that way, we just had a change in government.” The next U.S. government “will inherit the responsibilities of the previous government, and those responsibilities include the damages they have inflicted upon the Iranian people, upon their economy, and they have to compensate for those damages and they have to return to their international agreements.”

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