0132 GMT June 03, 2020
The high sense of unity and solidarity among Iranian people has been important in the country’s fight against the new coronavirus, said the Iranian ambassador to Brazil.
In an exclusive interview with Embassy Magazine, Hossein Qaribi also expounded on Iran’s situation in its fight against coronavirus, US sanctions on the country and bilateral relations with the Latin American state.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
EMBASSY MAGAZINE: Is Iran still the country in the Middle East most affected by the pandemic? What are the main government initiatives to control it?
HOSSEIN QARIBI: This is what the figures tell us. Turkey has the closest numbers to Iran in the region. When the situation got serious in March, a central monitoring and operation headquarters was formed under the direct command of President [Hassan] Rouhani. The [Iranian] health minister [Saeid Namaki] has had an important role and actually the body reinforces what he determines as necessary and useful. Whatever is decided has the support of all government, public, military, civil society and private sectors. The data collected from 31 provinces are monitored every day. Certain restrictions have been imposed [in Iran] and people have been extremely cooperative, which has proved the main driver of tangible achievements these days as the number of daily deaths and new cases have tremendously dropped.
An important measure that helped a lot save people was the quick isolation decision before [the start of] the New Year holidays [called ‘Noruz’] (this year falling on March 20). The holidays [normally] start on March 21 every year and usually tens of millions of people travel in the country during this period. At first, it seemed very difficult to prevent people from moving [around] but they proved very cooperative.
Another important and courageous decision was to close down all mosques and holy shrines [in Iran] where hundreds of thousands of people gather for prayer and religious rituals. Initially, it was unimaginable but both people and religious leaders again proved how rational they are when a serious threat endangers the society and public health.
Recently, you said, “Iran cannot afford to impose a quarantine". Could you elaborate on this?
If any public authority wants to keep people at home for a relatively long time, it should be able to support them in any way. Providing financial aid packages to vulnerable businesses and employees is necessary if it wants to successfully implement lockdowns, isolations and necessary social distancing measures. It is unfortunate that Iranians have been under unjust and unlawful US unilateral sanctions in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2231. You know that many governments, particularly that of Brazil, have approved aid packages. Imagine that you are deprived of accessing your [own] forex resources in foreign accounts and even, more blatantly, you are blocked from borrowing money from the IMF to help people under strong impacts of coronavirus. It is appalling and barbaric.
But we are not a nation to give up. Under these circumstances, the government choice was to draw up smart plans aiming to both protect people’s health and keep some businesses operating at the minimum level. These plans were successful thanks to people’s cooperation. Tehran and other big cities never stopped and moved in the right direction as we are today.
Iran has temporarily released 85,000 prisoners to prevent the coronavirus spread. How did the population view this measure?
High-risk criminals, including those who had committed crimes using weapons, were not included at all. Another important criterion is the term those inmates had spent in prison. Eligible inmates were those who had spent two-thirds of their conviction period and had convinced prison authorities that they would not be dangerous. The plan was to minimize the risk at prisons.
Moreover, many of them were prisoners of economic crimes and misconducts. And finally, the majority of those who were temporarily released were those eligible to receive regular prison leaves.
Is the US impeding transfer of breathing apparatuses and other hospital supplies, required for the treatment of COVID-19, to Iran? How are these sanctions imposed and how does the Iranian government react to them?
Any business transaction, including those of humanitarian goods, desperately needed health items and medical equipment, takes place when, at least, two conditions are met: 1. Banking activities between buyer and seller are conducted freely, and 2. Transportation of the items is possible. Following its unilateral withdrawal from the multilateral agreement [known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] under UN Security Council, the Trump administration imposed, as they call it, “comprehensive and maximum sanctions” on both these sectors indiscriminately preventing other countries’ banking as well as transportation sectors from doing business with Iran. The sanctions remained in place even after a clear ruling by the International Court of Justice on October 3, 2018 ordered the US "to lift its restrictive measures linked to trade of humanitarian items, foodstuffs and medicines as well as international civil aviation sector."
Under this situation, we have attempted to first, find ways to procure urgent items and then, to produce the required items using domestic resources and capabilities. Today, we are self-sufficient in the production of some of such items and are even ready to export them. This week, only 40,000 testing kits were shipped [from Iran] to Germany. However, US attitude during one of the hardest times in the history of humanity will not be forgotten by Iranian people. Such an attitude is still in place notwithstanding the worldwide campaign to denounce sanctions on Iran at the time the country is fighting the pandemic.
Which economic sectors are most affected by the pandemic in Iran?
As in Brazil, the tourism industry and retailers were at the forefront. A month prior to the beginning of the new year in Iran (March 20) and the following 30-day period are usually the best time for investments in these two sectors to pay off. From February to April, [Iranian] families spend dearly, providing certain businesses in the country with the opportunity to bring in high profits. However, this year, the outbreak of the pandemic turned this period into the worst time of the year for these businesses in terms of profit generation.
What has the government done for small business owners, entrepreneurs and the poorest in country during the crisis?
The government considered several measures ranging from granting debt reliefs to banks and other financial institutions to tax rebates and the newly announced aid package for families as well as eleven categories of small businesses. As I already said this could have been much better had the sanctions not impacted the government’s capacity to do so.
I would also like to refer to the high sense of unity and solidarity among Iranian people which is exemplary. We have heard many landlords did their best to help their tenants and even some refused to take their rents for the months of March and April. Families formed small funds to help vulnerable people in their vicinity, demonstrating the true image of being a human. People together will make sanction mongers to regret.
Although you arrived in Brazil at a time of a global crisis, what have been your plans for strengthening the bilateral partnership?
I had enough time to study the 120-year-long history of our bilateral relations. The foundation of Brazil-Iran relations is solid enough. We share many common positions on world issues. The level of economic cooperation has continuously been maintained to the interests of both countries.
I have enjoyed conversations and exchange of views with government officials, members of Congress as well as business people so far and found many common grounds. Brazil has demonstrated itself as what is called an emerging economic power and an important partner of BRICS. Iran is an important economic power and home to a market with a population of over 80 million as well as enormous resources and potentials. We are good in many areas. The economies of Iran and Brazil can complement each other. I would like to ensure that all those who want to do business in both countries can count on the Embassy and my team as good facilitators [of trade]. The [Iranian] Embassy [in Brazil] is open to businesspeople and companies willing to initiate trade or expanding their economic activities with Iran. I have told the same things to Iranian businesspeople.
We want to have a comprehensive and long-term framework within which our relations become more institutionalized and we become able to better serve the interests of both nations.
How are Iran's relations, agreements and trade with Brazil?
We have been moving in the right direction. Trade in the field of agriproducts has been steadily underway. Its level should certainly be maintained. At the same time, there are many potentials that can be used to safeguard both sides’ interests. Therefore, we need to diversify our economic ties. We have a dozen agreements. There are also several pending drafts that need to be finalized in due course.
You recently had a meeting with Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourao. How do you describe your meeting?
I enjoyed conversation with His Excellency General Mourao. I found him a smart, attentive and seasoned politician. He was well informed about the latest developments with regard to Iran. We continued on the same line of exchange of views that I had with His Excellency Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro when I presented my letter of credentials to him. We both agreed that we need to work hard together specially to redress the extensive damages to our economies in the post-corona era.
What will be your priorities in Brasilia?
I guess I answered this question above. I have always had one high priority in my life and that is to work hard to make tangible developments. I intend to explore the city and get to know the culture and other beauties of this magnificent city. But first, coronavirus should leave us alone and allow the citizens to get back to normal life.