DUBAI (Reuters) – President Hassan Rouhani pressed harder on Wednesday for a US$5 billion emergency IMF loan Iran has sought to fight the Middle East’s worst coronavirus outbreak, saying the Fund would be guilty of discrimination if it withholds the money.
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 International Monetary Fund to request the five billion dollars from its Rapid Financing Initiative, an emergency program 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.
“I urge international organizations to fulfill their duties … We are a member of the IMF,” Rouhani said at a televised cabinet meeting. “There should be no discrimination in giving loans,” Rouhani added, saying such discrimination would be unacceptable.
In a tweet on Sunday, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, accused the United States 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 4,003 people and infected 67,286.
The authorities have said some businesses whose operations do not create a big risk of spreading the virus will be allowed to reopen starting 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 program.
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.
By Parisa Hafezi
Additional reporting by Davide Barbuscia in Dubai; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Catherine Evans and Peter Graff
Image: In this photo released by the official website of the Office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani attends a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)