Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pressed on Wednesday for a $5bn emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund to fight the Middle East’s worst coronavirus outbreak, saying it would be guilty of discrimination if it withholds the money.
Rouhani also said some businesses will remain closed until further notice after authorities announced last week they will begin to ease a shutdown order from April 11.
Iran’s central bank wrote last month to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to request the $5bn from its Rapid Financing Initiative, an emergency programme 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 organisations to fulfil their duties … We are a member of the IMF,” Rouhani said at a televised cabinet meeting. “There should be no discrimination in giving loans.”
In a tweet on Sunday, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, accused the United States of blocking Tehran’s IMF loan request.
Iran has banned intercity travel and shut non-essential businesses to fight an outbreak that, according to official figures, has killed 3,993 people and infected 64,586.
Mohammad Marandi, professor of American Studies at Tehran University, told Al Jazeera over the phone from Tehran that he agreed with Rouhani’s insinuation that the loan refusal so far was “discrimination against Iran”.
“Iran is a dues-paying member of the IMF and has not had a loan in decades,” Marandi said.
He said the US and other Western nations have harmed the Iranian people during this critical time when the pandemic is ravaging the world.
“As a country that has paid its dues and without any debt to the IMF, Iran is entitled to a loan to fight the coronavirus pandemic at the time when the US has weaponised the virus against Iran.”
Iranian authorities have said some businesses whose operations do not create a big risk of spreading the virus will be allowed to reopen from 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 said the fund is in dialogue with Iran, with talks aimed at understanding its needs and what is required for the loan request to be processed.
Professor Mahjoob Zweiri, director of the Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University, told Al-Jazeera that Iran’s economy was faltering because of punishing US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.
“Rouhani is trying to rally European support to offset the American pressure in order to get the loan, and if he is not successful there will be dire consequences such as pushing Iran further toward radicalising its policies,” said Zweiri.
The coronavirus outbreak has further damaged Iran’s economy, already battered by US sanctions reimposed in 2018 when Washington exited an agreement to lift them in return for curbs to Iran’s nuclear programme.
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 the sanctions do not target medicine for Iran and Washington has offered to help Tehran face the outbreak. Iran has dismissed the offer as ridiculous.