Iran’s top leader bans COVID-19 vaccines from US, Britain

TEHRAN, IRAN (AP) — Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday banned Iran from importing of American Pfizer-BioNTech and Britain’s Astrazeneca COVID-19 vaccines, a reflection of mistrust toward the West.

In a televised speech, he said the import of American and British vaccines were “forbidden”, referring to the surging death tolls from the virus in both countries.

“I really do not trust them,” Khamenei said of those nations. “Sometimes they want to test” their vaccines on other countries, adding, “I am not optimistic (about) France,” either.

Iran has struggled to stem the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East.

Khamenei’s statement reflects decades of tense relations between Iran and the West which have not abated in the waning days of United States (US) President Donald Trump’s presidency. Concerns ran especially high in the weeks leading up to the January 3 one-year anniversary of the US killing of a top Iranian general in Iraq.

A series of moves this week appeared aimed at increasing Iran’s leverage before US Democrat Joseph Biden Jr becomes president on January 20.

Last Monday, Iran began enriching uranium to levels unseen since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Under Trump, the US in 2018 withdrew from the deal and re-imposed sanctions on Iran, sparking a series of escalating incidents.

Biden supported the deal with some reservations, and is expected to try to bring Iran back into compliance with it. He’s also expected to try to expand the pact to address non-nuclear issues.

During his 50-minute speech on Friday, Khamenei addressed the transition of power in the US by mocking American politics after a violent mob loyal to Trump overran the Capitol building in Washington.

“This is their democracy; this is their elections’ situation,” Khamenei said, smirking, during his address. He suggested the US was being paid back for inciting tensions in Iran in 2009, after its election.

Khamenei also said the West should bring the end to “hostile and traitorous” sanctions against Iran and supported Iran’s regional influence and missile programme.

Also on Friday, Iran’s state TV showed underground tunnels and depots of missiles in south of the country near strategic Strait of Hormuz. Iran has long insisted its nuclear programme is peaceful.

On the virus, Iranian officials have said previously that importing the Pfizer vaccine, which must be shipped and stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, poses major logistical challenges for Iran.