WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the nation's top diplomat, called out the Iranian regime on Tuesday for a lack of transparency amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
"Instead of focusing on the needs of the Iranian people and accepting genuine offers of support, senior Iranians lied about the Wuhan virus outbreak for weeks," Pompeo said during a press briefing at the Department of State.
"The Iranian leadership is trying to avoid responsibility for their grossly incompetent and deadly governments. The Wuhan virus is a killer and the Iranian regime is an accomplice," he added.
The virus — which has already killed more than 7,167 people and infected more than 183,000 people around the world — is spreading as the Iranian regime deals with intensifying U.S. sanctions.
Tehran has urged other countries to back its call for the lifting of U.S. sanctions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"Unlawful US sanctions drained Iran's economic resources, impairing ability to fight #COVID19," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Tuesday.
"We are trying to help, we continue to offer assistance to Iran in numerous ways. We have an open humanitarian channel to facilitate legitimate transactions even while ensuring that our maximum pressure campaign denies terrorists money," Pompeo said, adding that he hopes Tehran will accept U.S. support.
The sanctions are the lastest move in aggressive tit-for-tat exchanges between Tehran and Washington that began in 2018, when Trump unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 international agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program.
Earlier this year, Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced new sanctions days after Iran fired missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq in retaliation for an American airstrike in Baghdad that killed Iran's top military leader, Qasem Soleimani.
After the January missile strikes, President Donald Trump said the U.S. will "immediately impose additional punishing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime."
In December, State Department officials said that the maximum pressure campaign on Iran will intensify in 2020, as the U.S. seeks to rein in Tehran's pursuit of nuclear infrastructure and regional aggression.
"There will be more sanctions to come, and Iran's economic problems and challenges are going to compound in 2020," a senior State Department official said on a Dec. 30 call with reporters. "They are already deep into a recession, and we are also seeing Iran come under greater diplomatic isolation."