Pompeo speaks with Netanyahu about coronavirus, Iran’s ‘destabilizing behavior’

Pompeo speaks with Netanyahu about coronavirus, Iran’s ‘destabilizing behavior’

Secretary of state says US ‘commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering’; conversation comes amid growing calls for eased sanctions on Tehran due to virus outbreak

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) welcomes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to his residence in Jerusalem on March 21, 2019. (Jim Young/Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) welcomes US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to his residence in Jerusalem on March 21, 2019. (Jim Young/Pool/AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday said he spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the coronavirus pandemic and Iran.

In a tweet, Pompeo said the two discussed “US and Israeli efforts to contain and mitigate” the virus, without elaborating.

They also talked about “Iran’s destabilizing behavior,” Pompeo said.

“The United States’ commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering,” he added.

There was no immediate readout from the Prime Minister’s Office on the conversation, which appears to have taken place during the first day of Passover.

The conversation between the two came amid growing calls for the Trump administration to ease sanctions on Iran, one of the country’s hit hardest by COVID-19.

Pompeo last month hinted the US may relax sanctions on Iran and other countries because of the virus outbreak, while noting they were not blocked from receiving medical assistance.

Netanyahu, a vocal opponent of the Islamic Republic who has long advocated for tough US sanctions on Tehran over its alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons and support for terror groups, has refrained from mentioning Iran since the virus began spreading.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged the International Monetary Fund to give the sanctions-hit country a $5 billion emergency loan to combat its novel coronavirus outbreak.

But 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.

Iranian firefighters disinfect streets in the capital Tehran in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus, March 13, 2020. (AFP)

Pompeo charged 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 some US allies, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Though medicines and medical equipment are technically exempt from the US sanctions, their purchases are frequently blocked by the unwillingness of banks to process purchases for fear of incurring large penalties in the United States.

President Hassan Rouhani attends a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, March 18, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)

“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 around US sanctions.

But it has been 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.

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