March 12, 2020 / 9:25 AM / a month ago

Iran asks IMF for $5 billion emergency funding to fight coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for emergency funding to help it fight the coronavirus outbreak that has hit the Islamic Republic hard, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday.

The escalating outbreak in Iran - the worst-affected country in the Middle East - has killed 429 people and infected 10,075. The outbreak has damaged Iranian businesses and is bound to hit its non-oil exports after many neighbouring countries and trade partners shut their borders.

The IMF managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, “has stated that countries affected by #COVID19 (coronavirus) will be supported via Rapid Financial Instrument. Our Central Bank requested access to this facility immediately”, Zarif said in a tweet.

Iranian Central Bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati wrote on his Instagram page that “in a letter addressed to the head of IMF, I have requested five billion U.S. dollars (3.9 billion pounds) from the RFI emergency fund to help our fight against the coronavirus”.

Iran’s economy was already battered by U.S. sanctions that curb oil and gas exports crucial for government revenues. A slowdown in economic activity caused by the virus outbreak and a sustained closure of its borders are expected to lead to a contraction this year, analysts have said.

As Iran’s clerical rulers struggle to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Tehran has blamed the United States and its “maximum pressure” policy for restricting Iran’s ability to respond effectively to the virus.

In a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Zarif repeated Iran’s demand for U.S. sanctions to be lifted, Iranian media reported.

U.S. officials have said that the sanctions do not target medicine for Iran and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month said the United States had offered to help Tehran face the outbreak. Iran dismissed the offer as ridiculous.

U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Davide Barbuscia; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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