Iran expects India, world community to stand up against US sanctions: Iranian envoy
Iran expects India and the rest of the world community will stand against stand against the “unjust” US sanctions that are hurting millions of Iranians amid the Covid-19 crisis, Iranian ambassador Ali Chegeni has said.
In an interview with Hindustan Times, he also talked about India-Iran cooperation to tackle the pandemic and the steps being taken to help the 255 Indians who tested positive for Covid-19 in the holy city of Qom and the 5,000-odd Indians stranded in different parts of Iran.
Q. What is the current situation with regard to Covid-19 in Iran? Has the number of cases peaked?
A. Despite the brutal and inhumane US sanctions, our situation is relatively good in fighting the pandemic in comparison with some other countries. Keep in your mind, we could not take advantage of the experiences of others while Iran was among the countries hardest hit by the highly contagious virus in the first phase of spreading of Covid-19 across the globe. Now, hopefully the curve shows that the pandemic is falling [from] the peak as the number of new infection cases have dropped from 3,200 to 1,600 on a daily basis. Besides, there are around 48,000 recovery cases out of a total of 74,000 as of now.
Q. What steps are the authorities taking to control and prevent the spread of Covid-19?
A. From the very beginning of the outbreak, a National Committee for Fighting Coronavirus (NCFC) was set up, headed by the President, to make detailed and practical decisions against the spread of Coronavirus. In this regard, all internal powers from the military and law enforcement forces to the NGOs etc were mobilised. All political and economic events, cultural activities, sports contests, and religious congregations were postponed at the order of the committee. After some strict lockdown measures, the NCFC announced the Smart Social Distancing scheme with the aim of reopening low-risk businesses for provinces other than Tehran. For this purpose, the ministry of health has been coordinating with business unions to register in a system and if eligible, they will receive a certificate for doing their business on the basis of health protocols.
Most importantly, an Iranian biomedicine company has started mass production of serological test kits which are very much needed to detect the rate of infection among various groups of the population.
Moreover, considering the holy fasting month of Ramadan, the religious gatherings will be cancelled, in case it is considered unsafe for public health and the NCFC would decide on the details of this issue in its upcoming meeting.
Q. In what ways can India and Iran cooperate to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic? Are there any medical supplies and equipment or any other assistance that Iran has sought from India?
A. Given the capabilities of both countries, we can deploy the full strength of relations to effectively combat Covid-19. As you know, for many years we have been importing pharmaceutical products from India and we are confident that our cooperation will continue.
The close consultations of both countries’ health ministers and sharing experiences and the lessons learned in fighting the Coronavirus pandemic is very important and it could be more effective in a regional initiative. We could also cooperate on the development of medicines and vaccines as we do share great scientific and technological capacities together with research and development centres in our countries.
Considering the unpredictability of the situation, it is important to look at possible options to continue exchanges of goods and commodities according to uniform health protocols. Moreover, this ongoing pandemic could be a way forward to boost mutual economic cooperation and partnership.
Q. There are still some 5,000 Indian nationals, including pilgrims and students, who are still in Iran. What is their status? What are the two countries doing to look after their needs?
A. Since the citizens of both countries have been engaging in a deep-rooted people-to-people contacts for different purposes, I am happy to say that Indians have always been respected and warmly welcomed by Iranian people and the government. It was expected that many would be stranded as result of the epidemic.
Both countries, in a close and warm contact, have worked together to evacuate their stranded nationals and until now, eight batches of Indian nationals were transferred to India by seven Iranian airliners and one aircraft of the Indian Air Force, and the local authorities and Indian missions in Iran are providing all possible humanitarian assistance to the remaining Indians, including pilgrims, students and fisherman.
Q. What is the status of the Indians who tested positive and were being treated in Qom and Tehran?
A. From the very beginning, the government of Iran along with some local NGOs rushed to meet their accommodation, food and treatment. Recently they have been accommodated in some good hotels and guesthouse advised by Qom governorate under supervision and credit of Indian embassy in Tehran. Those who have tested positive, have been immediately hospitalised and offered the necessary medical treatment free of charge by Iran’s government. Indian embassy is following their situation closely.
Q. What is the status of the Iranians who were stranded in India?
A. Every year, especially during Nowruz festival, many Iranian tourists travel to India. However, this year coincided with the Coronavirus pandemic and consequently limits on international flights. Thanks to cooperation of the Indian authorities, we have been able to evacuate a majority of them. Still there are around 200 Iranian tourists and students who, at this stage, requested the embassy for their immediate return to Iran. We expect to send them back home by an Iran Air flight from Mumbai in the coming days.
Q. What is Iran’s position on the US sanctions that have affected the fight against Covid-19? Does Iran look to India and other countries to help in overcoming these sanctions?
A. The Iranian health sector, although among the most resilient in the region and the world, has been affected directly and indirectly by these unjust, illegal and inhumane sanctions. In a hypocritical way, the US administration has claimed that humanitarian supplies, including food and medicine, are exempted from anti-Iran sanctions, but freezing Iran’s financial assets in various countries, banning Iranian banks and denying Iran’s access to SWIFT for funds transfer and clear threats against several foreign banks have deterred them from doing any such humanitarian businesses with Tehran.
More important for the stay at home order, we needed to support the people by relief packages but as I mentioned, Iran’s assets have been blocked by the US administration.
So far, many prestigious foreign officials and international figures have called for the lifting of sanctions. We expect that the international community, including India, [will] stand against the unjust and extraterritorially imposed sanctions that are hurting millions of Iranians as well as other nations who have been paying a high price in this time of pandemic.