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13 Mar, 2020 15:52

Pompeo slams Iran's 'biological defense' against Covid-19, sidesteps Khamenei's 'biological attack' claims

Pompeo slams Iran's 'biological defense' against Covid-19, sidesteps Khamenei's 'biological attack' claims

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has criticized Iran's efforts at "biological defense" against Covid-19, but conspicuously avoided addressing Ayatollah Khamenei's claim that the virus was a "biological attack."

Khamenei all but accused the US of weaponizing coronavirus in a speech on Thursday, announcing the establishment of a military "Health and Treatment Base" to fight the disease. He declared that the facility "may also be regarded as a biological defense exercise… given the evidence that suggests the likelihood of this being a 'biological attack.'"

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Khamenei repeated the inflammatory claim in a series of tweets, echoing the words of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps chief Hossein Salami, who last week floated the "possibility" that coronavirus was the "product of a biological attack by America which initially spread to China and then to Iran and the rest of the world."

But instead of responding to the cleric's accusations, Pompeo merely chided him for not "telling the Iranian people the truth about the Wuhan virus when it spread to Iran from China" in a tweet on Friday, suggesting Tehran missed an opportunity for "the best biological defense" when it failed to curtail flights from Wuhan and "jailed those who spoke out." He made no mention at all of the virus as a "biological attack" – American or otherwise.

Other Iranian officials have avoided openly accusing Washington of deploying the virus as a weapon, focusing instead on how US sanctions have contributed to the epidemic's devastating effects. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif slammed the Trump administration's "medical terrorism" earlier this week, pointing out that artificially-induced shortages have put a major strain on hospitals' resources. More than two dozen Iranian officials have fallen ill with the coronavirus in the weeks since it first surfaced in Iran in what appears to be an especially virulent form.

While the virus now known as Covid-19 first gained international attention in Wuhan, where it was thought to have originated in an open-air meat market, further research appears to disprove that hypothesis – opening the matter to speculation. And the Iranians are not alone in suggesting US responsibility for the epidemic, which has spread to 116 countries and killed over 5,000 people globally as of Friday.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian came forward on Thursday to suggest that a US military delegation had brought the virus to Wuhan in October during the World Military Games, tweeting as his "proof" a video of the director of the US Centers for Disease Control admitting that some patients thought to have died of the flu later tested positive for the coronavirus. 

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