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Raisi says Iran ‘seriously lagging behind,’ vows to improve sanction-hit economy

At first cabinet meeting of new government, Iranian president promises to tackle country’s financial and health crises by increasing vaccine imports, boosting local production

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi speaks before parliament in the capital Tehran, on August 25, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)
Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi speaks before parliament in the capital Tehran, on August 25, 2021. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on Thursday vowed to improve the country’s sanction-hit economy and its COVID-19 response, saying that the current situation “does not befit” the Islamic Republic.

He delivered the remarks while chairing the first meeting of his cabinet, which was approved by parliament on Wednesday.

Lawmakers approved one-by-one 18 out of 19 candidates put forward by the ultra-conservative Raisi for the ministerial posts.

“The country’s situation today does not befit the great nation of Iran and it must certainly change,” Raisi said in a speech broadcast live on television.

The Islamic Republic is “seriously lagging behind” in certain areas, Raisi said, adding that his government’s priorities would be to curb a surge in coronavirus infections as well as to control inflation and “improve people’s livelihoods.”

In Iran where ultimate power rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Raisi inherits a difficult socioeconomic situation.

The ultraconservative won a June 18 election marred by record low turnout and an absence of significant competitors.

Mask-clad Iranians shop at the Tajrish Bazaar market in the capital Tehran, on August 22, 2021. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Iran has been strangled financially by sanctions reimposed by Washington after then US president Donald Trump pulled out of a multilateral nuclear deal in 2018.

Its already severe economic crisis has been amplified by the COVID pandemic.

Iran is the country in the Middle East worst hit by the virus and is currently grappling with a fifth wave of infections — the strongest yet — with daily deaths and cases hitting record highs several times this month.

Fewer than 6.5 million of Iran’s 83 million people have received a second vaccine dose, according to official figures.

Choked by US sanctions that have made it difficult to transfer money abroad, Iran says it has struggled to import vaccines.

Raisi vowed to increase vaccine imports and boost local production without offering details, saying efforts so far have been “necessary but not enough.”

Authorities have approved the emergency use of two domestically developed vaccines, but the only mass-produced one, COVIran Barekat, is in short supply.

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