Iran’s Supreme Leader Just Declined US Coronavirus Help Because of a Conspiracy Theory

“Possibly your medicine is a way to spread the virus more.”

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei speaks during his meeting with students in Tehran, Iran on October 18, 2017.Photo by Iranian Leader's Press Office - Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

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Iran’s supreme leader declined US aid in fighting the coronavirus, citing a baseless conspiracy about the American government intentionally creating the virus.

“I do not know how real this accusation is but when it exists, who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication?” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Sunday on state TV, according to the Associated Press. “Possibly your medicine is a way to spread the virus more.”

It’s unclear what aid is being offered. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the end of February that the United States had offered aid to Iran but did not comment on specifics.

He also claimed that the virus “is specifically built for Iran using the genetic data of Iranians which they have obtained through different means.”

“You might send people as doctors and therapists, maybe they would want to come here and see the effect of the poison they have produced in person,” Khamenei continued.

Khamenei was repeating a broader conspiracy theory about the United States engineering the coronavirus as a bioweapon. Iranian state media have embraced this rumor, as have Russian media linked to the Kremlin.

The theory has also been erroneously repeated by officials in other countries’ governments, including the Philippines’ Senate President Vicente Sotto.

Chinese government spokesman Lijian Zhao also tweeted earlier this month that it “might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”

Last week, the peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature Medicine debunked this conspiracy theory, concluding that it was “improbable” that the coronavirus had “emerged through laboratory manipulation of a related SARS-CoV-like coronavirus.”

Khamenei’s conspiracy-mongering comes as Iran faces crippling sanctions from the US government, which has economically devastated the country by blocking it from selling oil and trading in international markets. 

Iran has been ravaged by the Coronavirus, with more than 21,600 confirmed cases and 1,685 reported deaths. 

According to the AP, Iran has been generally suspicious of US aid efforts. Broadly, the Trump administration has shown no interest in letting up on sanctions against Iran and vowed to apply “maximum pressure” after the United States withdrew from a nuclear deal with Iran in 2018.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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