The U.S. government recently offered help to Iran in combating the coronavirus. On Sunday Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei turned down the offer, citing a conspiracy theory alleging the U.S. started the virus in the first place.
The 80-year-old Khamenei referred to claims, previously advanced by Chinese government officials, that the U.S. Army was behind the initial outbreak of the coronavirus, COVID-19, in Wuhan, China, Politico reported. Khamenei made his comments during a live television broadcast from Tehran on Sunday.
Despite decades of contentious relations, the U.S. has previously offered Iran aid during disasters in the past, such as the Bam Earthquake disaster in 2003. Iranian leaders have reportedly regarded the latest offers of aid as disingenuous.
Lijian Zhao, the spokesperson and Deputy Director General for the Information Department of China’s Foreign Ministry, recently tweeted allegations that the U.S. Army started the disease.
2/2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation! pic.twitter.com/vYNZRFPWo3
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 12, 2020
“I do not know how real this accusation is,” Khamenei said on Sunday, “but when it exists, who in their right mind would trust you to bring them medication? Possibly your medicine is a way to spread the virus more.”
Khamenei also alleged the virus may have been designed, using the genetic data of Iranians, to specifically target their population and cause them added harm.
“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 said.
Iran has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak, having recorded more than 23,000 cases and over 1,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus case tracking map. At one point, Iran recorded an average rate of one coronavirus related death every ten minutes.
Several high profile Iranian leaders, including Masoumeh Ebtekar, the country’s vice president for women and family affairs, have contracted the illness.
The U.S. State Department recently called on China’s ambassador to address Lijian’s claims about the origins of the virus.
President Donald Trump has been referring to the coronavirus in recent days as the “Chinese virus” and recently suggested he was doing so as a response to Lijian’s allegations against the U.S. Army.