July 2, 2021
Iran Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Thursday that the details of vaccine imports which Foreign Minister Mohammad-Javad Zarif has personally been involved in some cases will not be disclosed as it involves evasion of sanctions.
Speaking to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), Khatibzadeh said the ministry’s reserve about its role in the procurement of foreign vaccines is “a policy” to safeguard Iranian people’s “interests”.
“We believe that due to sanctions, this has to be done discreetly. We have therefore always advised other [officials] not to speak about the details [of the paths used to import vaccines] because [disclosing them] will obstruct the extensive operations of the foreign policy apparatus [to circumvent sanctions],” Khatibzadeh said and added that that importation of the majority of the vaccines and even the technology for production of vaccines has been carried out with the direct involvement of the ministry, and in some cases, the foreign minister himself.
In January Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei barred the import of United States- and United Kingdom-made vaccines including any purchased through the World Health Organization’s Covax facility.
Iran’s vaccination program has been progressing very slowly and there has been a shortage of vaccines in the past few weeks as Russian and Chinese firms have failed to honor their delivery commitments and homegrown COVIran Barakat’s production is not sufficient to meet the requirements.
The health ministry reported Thursday that so far around 4.44 million (5.5 percent) have received only the first dose and 1.7 million, slightly over two percent of the 84-million population, are fully inoculated.
Iranian officials have repeatedly said that procuring Covid vaccines, including 17 million doses pre-purchased through the Covax program, is obstructed by Washington’s sanctions which make payments complicated.
Washington on June 15 issued guidance easing the way for delivery of products such as face masks, ventilators, and vaccines to combat the coronavirus pandemic to heavily sanctioned countries like Iran, Venezuela, and Syria. “Even though we have comprehensive humanitarian general licenses in all our programs, we did see some gaps,” a US Treasury official told Reuters(link is external) after the guidance was issued, adding that prior to the move, obstacles were dealt with on a case-by-case basis that involved delay and cost.
Khatibzadeh on Thursday said the new guidance proves that the United States has been lying about exempting humanitarian items and particularly vaccines from sanction and alleged that the new guidance has also be issued in a way that makes it ineffective in procuring humanitarian items and vaccines.
In December 2020, the Chairman of Medical Supplies Importers Union, Naser Riahi, denied any problems in paying for the Covid vaccine and said Iran was importing around 150 million euros of medicine and equipment a month but a few days later, Central Bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemmati said payment for vaccines through the international banking system was practically impossible due to the requirement of getting a permit from the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in every case and that Iran had to find alternative paths for making payments.
On December 24, Hemmati said despite a license issued by OFAC earlier for the purchase of vaccines through the Covax program and payment from Iran’s frozen assets in South Korea, Tehran had not gone through with the payments for fear of US courts confiscating the money.
Khatibzadeh also told ISNA on Thursday that despite professional requirements, Zarif has yet not been vaccinated and was not able to attend a recent UN Security Council meeting on the Palestinian situation for the same reason.