In a televised speech on Sunday, March 22, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed his thoughts on the United States’ recent offer to help Iran battle the coronavirus, calling the offer “strange” and American officials “charlatans and liars.”

“Several times Americans have offered to help us to fight the pandemic. That is strange because you face shortages in America. Also you are accused of creating this virus,” said Iran’s ruler.

Ayatollah: ‘Our Number One Enemy is America … Its Leaders Are Terrorists’

“Our number one enemy is America. It is the most wicked, sinister enemy of Iran … its leaders are terrorists … Liars and charlatans,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by Reuters on Sunday.

Tensions between Tehran and Washington have been on the rise particularly since 2018 when President Trump withdrew from the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal and imposed sanctions on Iran in aims to bring its economy down. The other major recent event which shaped Iran’s ongoing negative perceptions of the United States was the killing of the Revolutionary Guards’ top commander Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike on January 3.

The United States is said to have offered Iran humanitarian aid for a few weeks now, but Iran kept rejecting those offers.

Pompeo Says US Has Repeatedly Offered Help to Iran

In late February, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington was ready to help Iran to combat the coronavirus.

“We’ve made offers to the Islamic Republic of Iran and we make clear to others around the world and the region that humanitarian assistance to push back against the coronavirus in Iran is something that the United States of America fully supports,” Pompeo told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday, February 28.

But Tehran denounced the offer as “ridiculous” and “hypocritical” and said it was part of a political and psychological game carried out by Washington against the Islamic Republic, the Tehran Times reported later in early March.

Iran has been unwavering in its position that, if the United States was willing to help Tehran, it should first lift the economic sanctions that have crippled its economy so far.

Iranian President Rouhani: ‘American Leaders are Lying’

On Monday, March 23, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani joined Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in rejecting the U.S. late offer and reiterated his position that the United States could only help by lifting those sanctions so that Iran can manage the coronavirus outbreak.

“American leaders are lying,” President Rouhani said in a televised speech. “If they want to help Iran, all they need to do is to lift sanctions.”

“You have blocked Iran’s oil exports, you have stopped Iran’s banking transactions… Your help offer is the biggest lie in the history,” he added.

Rouhani has previously called on Americans to urge their government to lift the economic sanctions it imposed on Tehran, blaming the United States of knowingly hindering Iran’s efforts to contain the coronavirus.

China and Russia Urge US to Relax Iran Sanctions

Other powers such as China and Russia had called on the United States to lift sanctions immediately after the coronavirus outbreak in Iran earlier this year. But the United States remained uncompromising and said last week it would not lift those sanctions, which have long aimed to bring Iran’s energy exports to “zero,” even amidst the current crisis.

“Our policy of maximum pressure on the regime continues,” Brian Hook, the U.S. Special Representative for Iranian Affairs, said in a press conference on Friday, March 20, adding that those sanctions were “not preventing aid from getting to Iran.”

Iran’s Massive Coronavirus Death Toll

Iran is the Middle Eastern nation worst hit by the coronavirus, with over 1,800 deaths and 23,049 infected people as of Monday, March 23. The Iranian Health Ministry said one person is dying from the virus every 10 minutes in Iran.

The outbreak there has even reached the higher echelons, infecting a number of senior officials, politicians, lawmakers, clerics and members of the elite Revolutionary Guards, with a dozen reported deaths.

Rejecting the United States’ offer to help, Iran said it was equal to defeating the virus regardless.

“The Islamic Republic has the capability to overcome any kind of crisis and challenges, including the coronavirus outbreak,” Khamenei said on Sunday, as he called on people to stay at home.

Regional Rivals and EU Help Iran

Other regional foes have already put their differences with Iran behind them to help the Middle East’s epicenter of the coronavirus. Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar offered humanitarian airlift and medical equipment and supplies to Iran despite their tense relations.

On Monday, the European Union also said it was willing to send €20 million in humanitarian aid to Iran to help alleviate the coronavirus outbreak, and will support Tehran’s request for I.M.F. financial help.

The E.U. Minister of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell said the European Union agreed “in supporting the request by Iran and also by Venezuela to the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) to have financial support.”

Iran also said the offer it received from Washington was insincere because the U.S. healthcare system is finding it hard to contain the virus there.

The United States has now more confirmed cases than Iran, though with fewer deaths, with 42,000 infections as of Monday, and 559 deaths. The State of New York is the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus, accounting for about half of the national cases and 6% of global cases with 20,875 cases as of Monday morning.

On Tuesday, The World Health Organization said that the United States could even become the next global epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.