TEHRAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday to give the sanctions-hit country a $5 billion emergency loan to combat its novel coronavirus outbreak.
The Islamic republic is battling one of the world's deadliest coronavirus outbreaks which it says has killed more than 3,800 people and infected more than 62,500.
There has been speculation abroad that the real number of deaths and infections could be higher. Iran has said it needs the funds to continue fighting the virus.
But its arch enemy the United States, which effectively holds a veto at the IMF, is reportedly set to block the loan, arguing Iran will use the funds for military purposes.
"I urge all international organisations to fulfil their duties," Rouhani said during a cabinet meeting.
"We are a member of the IMF... if there's going to be any discrimination between Iran and others in giving loans, neither we nor world opinion will tolerate it." Iran announced on March 12 that it had requested the loan.
The country has not received assistance from the IMF since a "standby credit" issued between 1960 and 1962, according to IMF figures.
According to the IMF's website, a Rapid Financial Instrument "is available to all member countries facing an urgent balance of payments need".
"If they do not act on their duties in this difficult situation, the world will judge them in a different way," Rouhani said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a recent interview that Iran would use any economic relief to pursue nuclear weapons and back Shiite militias in Iraq that the administration blames for a wave of attacks on bases used by US troops.
"You see the way... the regime is treating their people in this time of enormous crisis. You see the way that they continue to spend money," Pompeo told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
US President Donald Trump's administration has waged a campaign of "maximum pressure" on Iran since it withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal in 2018.
It has since imposed wave after wave of crippling sanctions that target key sectors of Iran's economy such as oil sales and banking.
Iran has repeatedly called on the Trump administration to reverse its sanctions policy, which has been opposed even by US allies, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Medicines and medical equipment are technically exempt from the US sanctions but purchases are frequently blocked by the unwillingness of banks to process purchases for fear of incurring large penalties in the United States.
"It will go down in history that the White House, which was engaged in economic terrorism so far, is now a terrorist in health issues, too," Rouhani said.
European nations have delivered medical goods to Iran in the first transaction under the Instex financing mechanism set up to get round US sanctions.
But it is more than a year since Britain, France and Germany announced the creation of Instex and Iran has questioned European governments' commitment to seeing it through in defiance of the Trump administration.