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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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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