Iran's leader points to coronavirus as reason for US to lift sanctions

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President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, in an open letter, urged Americans to call on their government to end the “dark chapter” of sanctions against his country as it fights the growing coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. imposed new sanctions on Iran last week, blacklisting five international companies from doing business with the country, Reuters reported.

“Our policy of maximum pressure on the regime continues,” Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iranian affairs, told reporters, according to Reuters. “U.S. sanctions are not preventing aid from getting to Iran.”

But in his letter, Rouhani wrote, “Even under the circumstances of the pandemic, the U.S. government has failed to abandon its malicious policy of maximum pressure; and is thus in practice aiding the spread of this virus with its sanctions.”

A person dies of coronavirus every 10 minutes in Iran, health ministry says

He said the “war” on the virus can be won only if every nation pulls together.

Rouhani also wrote to a number of world leaders last week, asking them to ignore U.S. sanctions that have “hampered” Iran’s response to coronavirus, according to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who claimed the sanctions show “utter contempt for human life.”

Iran has been hit the hardest of any other Middle Eastern country by the virus, with one person dying every 10 minutes, according to the country's health ministry.

Over the past 24 hours, 123 people died, raising the country's death toll to 1,556, according to healthy ministry spokesperson Kianush Jahanpoor. It has had 20,610 cases.

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The U.S. sanctions are meant to pressure Iran into abandoning its nuclear ambitions after President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Obama-era nuclear agreement in 2018.