Reacting to coronavirus, Europeans launch long-awaited INSTEX mechanism with Iran
France, Germany and Britain have made the first use of a bartering mechanism set up to circumvent U.S. sanctions against Iran, so they could send medical supplies to the crisis-hit country, the German Foreign Office said on Tuesday.
The delivery is a breakthrough in long-running European attempts to activate the Instex mechanism, aimed at enabling legitimate trade with Iran, despite the U.S. sanctions.
The supplies have arrived in Iran, the German Foreign Office confirmed, adding that Instex was working on further transactions with its Iranian counterpart organisation, STFI.
Iran is home to one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks globally, with nearly 45,000 cases of infection and around 2,900 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Iranian Health Ministry.
President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that the country's state of emergency - which has closed schools, shuttered stores and restricted movement - could be extended beyond its current April 8 expiry date.
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Iran bearing the brunt: with a high number of deaths and cases, Iran has been a regional epicentre of the outbreak. Several top officials have been infected and there are concerns the number of cases are higher than reported. The government has cancelled Friday prayers but health workers have complained they are under-equipped. Iran has asked the International Monetary Fund for emergency funding
Strict measures in Saudi Arabia: Saudi authorities banned international religious pilgrims early on, leaving the Grand Mosque's Kaaba in Mecca virtually empty. Other measures have involved sanitizing streets and mosques, closing schools and universities, an extensive travel ban and fines of up to 500,000 riyals (€120,000/$133,000) for people hiding health details. It has also locked down the Shia-minority area of Qatif
Egypt restricts travel: in Cairo, hundreds of Egyptians tried to get certificates showing they have a clean bill of health after Saudi Arabia announced new travel regulations. Although Egypt has only detected a low number of cases, more than 100 tourists returning from the country tested positive for the virus. Officials have limited sermons to 15 minutes and cancelled large public gatherings
Israel and West Bank cut off from the world: gatherings of less than 100 are still allowed, leaving visits to the Wailing Wall open. But Israeli authorities have virtually halted air traffic in and out of its territory and tourists are required to self-quarantine. The city of Bethlehem has declared a state of emergency, emptying streets usually teeming ahead of Easter. Israeli researchers have said they are close to finding a COVID-19 cure
Virtual lockdown in Kuwait: as Kuwaitis kept their distance at this makeshift testing centre, the country entered a virtual lockdown, with the entire workforce given a two-week holiday from March 12. All commercial flights have been suspended from Friday on, schools have been closed and gatherings at restaurants, malls and commercial centres have been banned
In Iraq coronavirus fails to dampen protests: Iraq's protest movement has set up its own makeshift disinfection stations to counter the spread of COVID-19. Although Iraq is highly prone to the outbreak due to its proximity and close relations with Iran, protesters have been defiant, saying the government is the virus. Elsewhere authorities have closed major public spaces and religious institutions have cancelled gatherings
He described the pandemic as the third crisis to hit Iran in the last four decades. The first was the eight-year war against neighbouring Iraq (1980-88) and the second was the reimposition of US sanctions against the country since 2018.
The United States announced its withdrawal from the international nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018 and revived crippling economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The remaining parties have vowed to uphold the deal, which is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons in return for widespread sanctions relief.
Trading restrictions reimposed by Washington have prevented Tehran from reaping significant economic benefits - and most recently have led to concerns that Iran is unable to get the supplies it needs to tackle its health crisis.
In January, Iran announced that its nuclear programme would no longer be bound by any restrictions.
In response, Britain, France and Germany triggered the dispute settlement procedures foreseen under the 2015 pact, which could ultimately lead to the revival of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.
However, the three European countries have stressed that they are trying to salvage the deal together with Russia and China - the five countries that are left to uphold the agreement following Washington's exit.
According to Tehran, U.S. sanctions are making medical treatment for Covid-19 patients more difficult as Iran is cut out of the global banking system, making transactions to buy medicine and gear from abroad impossible.
Rouhani and his crisis team have expressed confidence that they can bring the outbreak under control by 8 April, but experts have cast doubt about the timetable. (dpa)