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Vaccineproduced by the US and UK will be banned from entering Iran, its supreme leader has said, even though his country has suffered the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East.
“Imports of US and British vaccines into the country are forbidden … They’re completely untrustworthy,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a live televised speech. “It’s not unlikely they would want to contaminate other nations.
“Given our experience with France’s HIV-tainted blood supplies, French vaccines aren’t trustworthy either,” he added, referring to France’s contaminated blood scandal of the 1980s and 1990s.
Khamenei’s comments reflected the tense relations between Iran and the west, which have not abated in the waning days of Donald Trump’s presidency.
In his speech, Khamenei mocked American democracy and human rights in the wake of the riot at Capitol Hill in Washington, and said Iran was in no hurry to negotiate with the incoming Biden administration. But he said if the US lifted sanctions, Iran would respond. He said the issue of compensation for sanctions could be pursued at a later date.
His remarks came as Iran prepared to discuss a plan to purchase medical supplies by unlocking as much as $1bn (£735m) of $7bn in frozen assets held in two South Korean banks. The plan will be discussed when the South Korean vice-foreign minister, Choi Jong-kun, travels to Tehran in an effort to secure the release of a South Korean vessel seized by the Iranian navy earlier this week. Some of the South Korean delegation reached Tehran on Friday.
Iran’s central bank governor said Iranian oil revenues had fallen to $20bn, a drop of more than half, as a result of US sanctions.
The Iranian foreign ministry claimed the diplomat’s visit was totally focused on the unlocking of Iranian assets, insisting it had been arranged before the ship seizure, although the official Iranian press has been reporting the US block on Iranian assets in Korea ever since the ship was stopped for allegedly polluting the marine environment.
Tehran has been in lengthy negotiations with South Korea on how to access the assets held in South Korean banks without falling foul of US extraterritorial sanctions, something that is likely to happen if dollar transactions are involved.
In the past Iran has exported oil and natural gas to South Korea using settlement accounts based on Korean currency.
Owing to the imposition of US sanctions, Tehran has been unable to access its money, even though it insists the money could be transferred in South Korea currency and used exclusively for the purchase of sanction-exempt food and medicines. Seoul claims it has not received the necessary US Treasury assurances that the payments would not lead to fines.
More recently, Iran has suggested the money would be used to buy vaccines using the UN-approved Covax facility. Any payment via a dollar transaction might give the US Treasury leverage to fine the banks involved, and Seoul has said there is no safe way to transfer the money.
In relation to the coronavirus, Iranian officials have previously said that importing the Pfizer vaccine, which must be shipped and stored at -70C (-94F), poses major logistical challenges for Iran.
The country has struggled to stem the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East, which has infected nearly 1.3 million people and killed nearly 56,000.
Iran launched human trials of its first domestic Covid vaccine candidate late last month.