Iran will use IMF funds for terrorist groups, says US spokeswoman

Tehran warns the international lender not to 'discriminate' against it

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The United States opposes an International Monetary Fund bailout for Iran as it grapples with the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East.

Iran requested assistance from the IMF in March, the first time Tehran has sought aid from the body since before the 1979 revolution despite decades of sanctions.

But US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told BBC Persian that the White House is worried the funds will not go to helping the people of Iran.

"We have made our position clear to the International Monetary Fund that the United States does not believe that any financial assistance to the Iranian regime will reach the Iranian people," Ms Ortagus said. "They will spend that money in their pockets to help their terrorist proxy groups in the Middle East."

Iran's central bank wrote last to the IMF last month to request $5 billion (Dh18.36bn) from its Rapid Financing Initiative, an emergency programme that aids countries faced with sudden shocks such as natural disasters.

There are more than 60,000 confirmed cases in the country and more than 4,000 confirmed deaths.

President Hassan Rouhani pressed harder on Wednesday for the funds, saying the IMF would be guilty of discrimination if it withholds the money.

"I urge international organisations to fulfil their duties ... We are a member of the IMF," Mr Rouhani said at a televised Cabinet meeting. "There should be no discrimination in giving loans."

An IMF official has said the fund is in dialogue with Iran, with talks aimed at understanding Iran's needs and what is required for the loan request to be processed.

The coronavirus outbreak has further damaged Iran's economy, already battered by US sanctions, reimposed since 2018 when Washington exited an agreement to lift them in return for curbs to Iran's nuclear programme.

Tehran has blamed the United States and its "maximum pressure" policy for restricting Iran's ability to respond effectively to the virus.

"The US sanctions on Iran are economic and medical terrorism ... They are in violation of international medical conventions," Mr Rouhani said.

US officials have said that the sanctions do not target medicine for Iran and Washington had offered to help Tehran face the outbreak. Iran has dismissed the offer as ridiculous.