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‘I don’t trust them’: Iran supreme leader bans COVID vaccines from US, Britain

Khamenei says these countries sometimes first test their vaccines on others; Iran has region’s worst virus toll, with 56,000 dead

In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves before he addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. in Tehran, Iran. Khamenei called to ban the import of American and British vaccines, claiming they are not to be trusted. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves before he addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. in Tehran, Iran. Khamenei called to ban the import of American and British vaccines, claiming they are not to be trusted. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Friday banned Iran from importing 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 was “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 US President Donald Trump’s presidency. Concerns ran especially high in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 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 Democrat Joseph Biden Jr. becomes president on Jan. 20.

Tayebeh Mokhber is injected with the Coviran coronavirus vaccine produced by Shifa Pharmed, part of a state-owned pharmaceutical conglomerate, in a ceremony in Tehran, Iran on Dec. 29, 2020. (AP/Aref Taherkenareh)

On 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 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 program.

Also on Friday, Iran’s state TV showed underground tunnels and depots of missiles in the south of the country near the strategic Strait of Hormuz. Iran has long insisted its nuclear program 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 (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit), poses major logistical challenges for Iran.

In this March 31, 2020, file photo, Iran’s national flag waves as Milad telecommunications tower and other buildings are seen in Tehran, Iran. (AP/Vahid Salemi, File)

Iran has struggled to stem the worst virus outbreak in the Middle East, which has infected nearly 1.3 million people and killed nearly 56,000.

However, Khamenei Friday okayed the import of vaccines from other “safe” places, and remains supportive of Iran’s efforts toward producing a vaccine.

The county began testing its vaccines on humans in December. The product is expected to hit the local market in spring.

Hardliners in Iran have long opposed the US-made vaccines. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in December rejected the use of foreign-made vaccines altogether. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naghdi said the Guard “does not recommend the injection of any foreign vaccine” candidates based on genetic material known as messenger RNA, which carries the instructions for cells to make proteins.

Authorities said then that US-based benefactors plan to deploy scores of thousands of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus to Iran.

Iran retains routes to vaccines despite sanctions, including through its participation in COVAX. International banks and financial institutions are reluctant to deal with Iran for fear of American penalties

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